The conference of the Community Media Association took place on Saturday in Sheffield. This annual get-together of people from across the United Kingdom is a chance to meet-up with like-minded people from all walks of life and representing many different forms of media, including community radio, community television, local news collective, arts groups, academics and anyone with an understanding, to paraphrase John Ruskin, that in making community media it is not what we produce that is important, but what we become by it that is what matters.
Lucinda Guy leads the CMA council, and her vision this year was to bring together a group of young people to curate the conference, and to ask how the future of community media will be fostered and nurtured by the next generation of participants, advocates and potential leaders. Some challenging topics got aired, some vigorous debate took place, and a diverse range of voices got expressed, with newer members having their say as much as the more established older hands.
One of the great strengths of community media, which is often overlooked, and is in harsh contrast to many forms of mainstream mass media, is that community media has a caring and healing capacity. Community media is not just about addressing anonymous audiences, but is about bringing people together to explore their differences, and to find ways to understand what these differences are about.
We are a society that spends a lot of time emphasising differences and the things that keep us apart. Community media, however, has the capability to explore and represent the experience of community life in modern Britain in its many forms. Seeing our world for what it is, rather than as it might be imagined by people who only want to sell us things.
One of the great challenges of our age is to achieve a sense of belonging, and to value the sense of identity that comes from the place that we call home. Having a place to which we belong is an essential condition for a stable and peaceful society, but for many people this is not something that can be taken for granted. Many people feel that the cultural stability that they have is under threat, while many others long for the opportunity to feel like they belong.
Many migrant communities find great solace in being able to hear radio programmes in a language they understand, that tells stories that are common to their experiences, or play music that is familiar. This brings solace and offers the potential for healing of the wounds that come with modern society, dislocation and migration that are part of the process of globalisation.
Community media doesn’t seek to impose a singular view of how things should be done, but looks to celebrate the diversity of creative thinking and expression that helps to make us feel welcome ad united as communities. What I learnt from the conference is that we need to continue to emphasise the need for people to make their own media in the many different voices that they have, and the many different forms that are available.
The challenge to the sterile model of mono-cultural mass media that we have to put up with, and have no say about, is to continue to be creative, inventive, united in expressing our differences. We don’t all think the same way, and recognising our diversity while building a sense of solidarity about our willingness to share stories about our lives is of vital importance. As I’m fond of quoting at the moment, and according to the psychologist Carl Jung, is we deny the opportunity for people to tell their stories, then evil will prosper.