In what was clearly an ambitious outreach programme during the current pandemic crisis, the UNESCO Chair on Community Media curated and hosted a series of online Global Dialogues on Community Media in the Post-Pandemic World from June 2020.
Ten episodes of these dialogues have been held so far, with over 70 panellists and moderators participating from 45 countries across six continents, with the last one slated for October with focus on South and Latin America. These regional conversations, centred, respectively, on South Asia, Southeast Asia and the Pacific, Australia, UK and Ireland, Eastern and Southern Africa, West and Central Africa, Continental Europe, North America, and South America, ran for over 20 hours overall, contributing valuable insights from practitioners, academics, and advocates of community radio. The series was supported by UNESCO South Asia Regional Office in New Delhi and involved partnerships forged by the Chair with organisations such as the UNESCO Regional Office for Southern Africa, AMARC Asia-Pacific, AMARC-Europe, Community Media Forum-Europe (CMFE), Farm Radio International, and Fondation Hirondelle, the Swiss INGO.
Taking advantage of the possibilities offered by technology, the Global Dialogues cut across more than a dozen time zones and reached a diverse audience, engaging them in intense deliberations against the backdrop of the active role being played by community radio stations everywhere in tackling the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Facing lockdowns, restrictions on movement, Internet problems, and declining human and financial resources, these community media outlets have been demonstrating the value of locally relevant information being shared in local languages, of being a soothing voice against the panic, and of being a credible community connect in times of crises. The dialogues also highlighted the challenges that community radio stations have had to deal with even in the pre-COVID days, including inadequate democratization amidst civil strife, lack of legal recognition for the sector, constraints imposed by the regulatory environment, and financial sustainability. The Global Dialogues showcased these achievements and challenges of community radios and underlined the relevance of these local media during difficult times as the present.
More specifically, the dialogues raised a number of key questions, including: What roles can community media play in crisis situations, such as the current pandemic? What are the possibilities and constraints for community media in the post-pandemic world? What is the continued relevance of community media in the age of digitization and digital media? What are the experiences of movements and networks in negotiating with governments on opening up third-sector media? Does the state of civil society across the world give rise to optimism about the future of community media? Is there a need for reform/transformation within the community media sector to adapt itself to the post-pandemic world?
While the dialogues have identified several common threads running through the narratives of community radio across the world, they have also brought to the fore the tremendous amount of diversity and pluralism that mark the sector internationally.
All video recordings of the Dialogues can be accessed on YouTube at: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLWGMgk7rZUdjY6qEums7ODxqF0MfIBg6C