Community Media as a Platform for Community Cohesion

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Those who know me are aware that I have been deeply invested in the state of our media landscape for many years. Recently, my anxieties have been amplified due to the direction in which the new Media Bill appears to be headed. In my view, the proposed legislation lacks adequate focus on the critical role that local media plays in our democracy, and risks dismantling the well established local media infrastructure in many places around the country.

The Bill’s potential to deregulate commercial services, while the government simultaneously permits the BBC to reduce its local radio services in England, is particularly alarming. These shifts could lead to a significant decline in democratic accountability, rather than an increase. I believe that local media serves as a cornerstone of our communities, providing essential coverage of local events, issues, and voices that would otherwise go unnoticed. The loss of these services could create a vacuum in local news coverage, leaving communities uninformed and less engaged in local affairs.

I am passionately concerned about the potential negative impacts of these proposed changes, and I am committed to advocating for the preservation and strengthening of our local media infrastructure. The decisions we make now will shape the future of our media landscape and, in turn, the health of our democracy. It’s crucial that we get this right.

If you’ve followed this blog, you will know that I regard the work of Ted Cantle in high esteem. I interviewed Ted for the Decentred Media Podcast back in February. Ted is a pioneer in the field of community cohesion, has long advocated for strategies that seek to build trust and harmony in diverse communities. His work outlines a set of principles designed to promote unity and cohesion within communities, regardless of the diversity of their makeup. The principles include shared values, equality, intercultural exchanges, and strong and positive relationships between people from different backgrounds. Cantle emphasises the importance of creating a sense of belonging for everyone in the community, fostering mutual respect, and promoting dialogue and understanding.

However, with the rise of the digital age, communities worldwide face an onslaught of misinformation and propaganda, often propagated by unaccountable foreign agencies and countries. This phenomenon represents a significant threat to community cohesion, as it fosters division, mistrust, and discord. It is against this backdrop that the role of community media, such as community radio and local news, becomes even more crucial.

Community media has the potential to serve as a buffer against external propaganda, promoting social cohesion as a primary purpose. They can provide accurate, relevant, and localised information that can be trusted by the community, thus countering the narrative driven by misinformation. Moreover, they can promote the principles of community cohesion as outlined by Cantle, by cultivating shared values, promoting equality, facilitating intercultural exchanges, and building strong relationships within the community.

Investment in community media, therefore, should be guided by these principles. It should aim at creating platforms that allow for open dialogue, foster mutual respect and understanding, and provide unbiased, accurate news and information. This can be achieved by providing training to community journalists on ethical reporting, promoting diversity within the staff, and engaging the community in the media production process.

Take, for example, a super-diverse city like Leicester. Leicester is an epitome of diversity, with its residents representing a wide range of ethnicities, cultures, and religions. It has managed to coexist harmoniously, yet the risk of its civic discourse being hijacked by external influences is real. Foreign agencies and countries could exploit its diversity, seeding discord and fostering division through misinformation and propaganda.

To safeguard against this, Leicester’s community media must serve as a bulwark, providing a trusted source of information and promoting social cohesion. It can do this by consistently promoting shared values, fostering a sense of belonging, and facilitating intercultural dialogue. It can provide a platform for residents to voice their concerns, share their experiences, and engage in constructive dialogue. Through this, it can help to strengthen the fabric of the community and counter the influence of external propaganda.

The principles of community cohesion, as outlined by Ted Cantle, provide a valuable framework, I believe, for community media in the face of growing external pressures. By adopting these principles as a primary purpose, community media can play a crucial role in promoting social cohesion and countering misinformation and propaganda. Investment in such media should, therefore, be prioritised, to ensure that communities like Leicester remain resilient in the face of these challenges.

Such an investment is not merely a matter of preserving the status quo, but a proactive step towards building stronger, more cohesive communities. It is a commitment to fostering dialogue and understanding in the face of discord, and to promoting the unity and harmony that underpin any thriving community. As Cantle himself has said, “We have to learn to live together, to understand each other’s cultures and to understand that we have so many things in common.” And it is through community media that we can do just that.