Niamh Gaynor, PhD, National University of Ireland, Maynooth, lectures in the International Development in the School of Law and Government at Dublin City University. She researches the politics of development, participation, and governance in both Africa and Ireland, as well as civil society and community, media and development.
Anne O’Brien, PhD, Sociology, National University of Ireland, Maynooth, is Producer and Academic Coordinator at Kairos Communication. She has produced a number of documentaries for Irish national broadcasters RTE and TG4.
“Community development” is “politically ambiguous…swaying as it does between reformist and transformist agendas” (2). The typical concepts we find are: empowerment, participation, community building — all of which start with discourse.
Paradoxically, as there become more and more media outlets, our public access to them shrinks. In this context, community radio is exceptional, representing “a key element in the empowerment, development, and consolidation of local communities…of community development” (3). Arguing that community radio is an “under-utilized yet vital element for community development” (ibid), a specific media space in the public sphere that enables dialogue between different groups within a community, reflects and constitutes local culture, encourages a sense of place, engages marginalized groups, and promotes progressive social change.
Of course participation isn’t guaranteed: scholars name “civic apathy” as an obstacle for community engagement. However, of the four Irish stations they studied, they found that community radio was perceived more for the community than of it. Community stations’ operations are often dominated by a specific “service ethos” (7), regularly described as “providing a valuable service to the local community” (ibid), and not as centers for open debate and discourse between actual community members. At the same time, at the Irish governance level, there has been a pro-professionalization shift in the community development sector from seeking transformation to providing services.