You and Your Communities
A community radio station can and should flourish into a dynamic, bustling, effective and valuable neighbourhood resource. It can be actively involved in changing lives and improving our villages, towns and cities forever. Just as easily, it can become little more than a club for anoraks and hobbyists or worse still a screen for covert profiteers.
- Why Community?
- The Benefits
- Benefits to Your Partners
- Laying The Foundations
- Know Your Community
- Finding Community Partners
- Consult with Your Community
- Sustaining Your Community Outreach
- Ethnic Representation
- Non English language Programming
- Working with Young People
- Working With Religious Communities
- Drawing The Line
We firmly believe that wasting the opportunities or social gain offered by community radio is an abuse of privilege. The OFCOM regulations might feasibly be satisfied by a small group of regular volunteers broadcasting for a few hours a day with lots of community service announcements and interviews with local residents – just enough to tick the right boxes on a licence application form. Your conscience should not be satisfied with that. When you are granted a community radio licence, you receive it on behalf of the community you represent. In other words, the radio station doesn’t belong to you. It belongs to your community – you simply run it on their behalf.
You must prove that you are accountable to, and representative of your community before you will be granted a licence (see Applying). Your company structure should plant you firmly in your community and ensure that the needs and wishes of the people you serve are heard. But this may not be enough.
There is a natural temptation for new community radio projects to set up, throw open the doors and see who comes in. The first individuals through the door will probably be pub and club DJs, hospital radio DJs, experienced community activists, local councillors, politicians and the other people who, in many ways, need your facilities least. We will look below at ways to reach beyond those driven by enthusiasm or vested interest, to reach the individuals who will benefit most from your station. Exactly the same is true of community groups.
Enabling your community to develop:
- Is one of the main reasons you exist.
- Requires you to be part of your community.
- Requires your community to be part of you.
- Involves connecting with hard to reach sections of your community, not just the better organised groups and agencies.
A new community radio station should instantly attract the attention of council services, health agencies, housing providers and other large and well-funded service providers, many of whom will employ people specifically to co-operate and connect with community groups like you. This is a great thing of course, and many of these organisations will become your key partners (see Dealing With Different Agencies). Don’t be fooled into thinking they are the whole story.
The groups and sections of the community that need your station most may be the ones that don’t come to you. Maybe they don’t have the time or the personnel to meet up with you. Perhaps they are already over-committed and fear that involvement with radio would just mean more work and more bureaucracy. Or perhaps there are sections of the community that simply have no one to represent them at community level. There may be no Chinese community centre or gay and lesbian group in your town. In such cases it is your duty to make extra efforts to ensure that these parts of your community are not excluded from radio too. This doesn’t just mean broadcasting at them, it means bringing them into the station to broadcast for themselves.
Good community development is at the very heart of good community radio. Get it right and you will find everything else falls into place. Fail to get it right and you will never fulfil your true potential.
Good community development not only means you are serving your function as a community station, it is also highly beneficial for your station’s own future. Here are just some of the ways you will benefit from good community outreach:
- Better local image. If you develop a reputation (fairly or unfairly) as an insular or aloof little club then it will become harder to persuade other community groups to become involved, so making you look even more like an insular club. It’s a downward spiral.
- More and better talent. The most talented broadcasters, reporters or producers may be lurking in the shadows of your community. It’s in your interest to seek those people out.
- More support and back-up. Community groups tend to help each other. Between them they have access to just about everything you might ever need. If you need a trestle table for a stall at a fete, you can be sure that one of your partner groups will have one. The more partners, the more resources.
- Better access to your community. Other groups will bring you into contact with people you might never meet otherwise.
- Better output. There are interesting things happening in your community. Awe-inspiring stories of human triumph and adversity, issues of intense local interest, local personalities who can captivate your community. The better your reach into the community, the more likely you are to uncover these people and stories and turn them into great radio.
- Better skills. Within other community groups there will be a large number of volunteers or staff who have enormous skills and experience to share with you. If you are involved in a mutually beneficial partnership you are much more likely to be able to tap into them.
- Better funding. There will be many streams of funding that you cannot access because you are not a school, a youth service, a BME (Black and Minority Ethnic) organisation or whatever. If you can team up with such groups for joint projects you can often find money you would otherwise miss out on.
- Better credibility. The broader your involvement in your community, the more credible you will look to local power-brokers. The more necessary you make yourself, the more important it will be for funders to support you.
Benefits to your Partners
The benefits that other groups can gain from a community radio station are as wide-ranging and as deep as their involvement. That involvement might be as little as sending an occasional email with details of a public meeting to be read out, or it might be as much as a long-term project partnership with shared staff and resources. We believe that the more a partner group puts into community radio, the more it will get out, and so the better the station will be performing.
The benefits of community outreach:
- Are extensive for you and your community alike.
- Include accessing more funding, resources and support and helping to secure your futur
Let’s take the example of a school jumble sale. A radio station could fulfil its basic obligations to the community by publicising the event in advance and then reporting how much money had been raised afterwards. But the opportunities are so much greater than that. If a class from the school were to learn how to use the necessary equipment to make their own ad or announcement and record interviews with delighted jumble-buyers.
As a bonus, you will be broadcasting great radio that perfectly fulfils every aspect of your remit. You will attract new audiences and reach more people in your community. You will be behaving as a community radio station should.buyers and PTA organisers on the day and turn it into a radio project, the event could become a serious learning opportunity for the children involved. It could be formalised as a project on any number of courses across the curriculum, from media studies to ICT to English. Attendance may improve. Children become enthused. Then when the school sees the benefits attained from the collaboration, it will then become more tempted to invest resources and money in your station in the future – if they have any resources to invest, which is often a big ‘if’.
Laying the Foundations
It is tempting, and not exactly surprising for a new community radio group to throw all their energies into getting on air as soon and as often as possible, through RSL’s, web-streaming etc. But even at this early stage this should be only one part of the equation. Long before you apply for a community licence, you should already have forged strong relationships with your key partners . Your community outreach and development work should already be underway.
If you can obtain strong constructive input from the greatest possible number of community partners at an early stage, this can be used to guide your plans and eventually your OFCOM application in the most useful directions. If you allow your prior assumptions and prejudices to guide your vision, you may invite trouble at a later date when you suddenly find you had misjudged your community and that you need to make significant changes of direction. You will also find that unless you are properly embedded in your community in your early days, you will spend months and years attempting to justify and prove yourself to a community that may be suspicious or confused about your purpose and motives.
Know Your Community Inside and Out
The best way to know a community is to be part of it and to live in it. Your station should of course be full of people who do. But communities are usually complex and contain a variety of problems, opportunities and issues that might not immediately spring to mind – even if you live bang in the middle of it. Extensive research is called for if you are to serve your community as well as possible. You should think about:
- Census records and other demographic data available at the library.
- University and college libraries and research departments.
- Voluntary sector umbrella groups.
- Your key partners, who may have conducted similar research.
Finding Community Partners
Some community radio stations will grow out of existing community groups, so it is possible that many of your community partners may already be in place. For most, one of the first steps in establishing a station has to be an extensive and exhaustive community research exercise. Someone will need to spend a lot of time identifying (or finding someone who has already identified) who is doing what in your community already, who is providing which services, and which community needs are not currently being addressed. You should be making contact with:
- Community and voluntary groups and campaigns ·
- Statutory agencies ·
- The business sector (via Chambers of Commerce, local business federations and major employers)·
- Trades unions·
- Faith groups·
- Other groups – sport and hobby clubs, social clubs etc.
Many of their contact details will already be gathered by voluntary sector umbrella groups and your local library – although in practice such lists can often be out of date, incomplete and unreliable, so they can only ever be a starting point. From there it is a matter of investigation and patience:
- Ask your existing partners for the details of other groups or agencies that they work with.
- Ask your volunteers what other groups they are involved with.
- Keep an eye on the local press and community action networking newsletters or websites.
- Keep an eye on noticeboards at the local library and elsewhere.
- Attend community events and meetings and network with other attendees (we have found Ward Co-ordination and community network meetings very useful in this way).
- Look for obvious gaps in your contacts book (e.g. if there is nobody from a particular ethnic minority or no input from people with disabilities for example, you need to actively seek out those sections of the community.)
- Get named contacts and get to know them – nothing quite works like first name terms.
Some organisations will be more easily approached than others. Some may prove impossible to engage with altogether, perhaps because they cannot see the immediate benefits of getting involved, are completely overstretched or they may have an insular approach to their own work – that is they may not want to get involved with the wider community at all. Some faith groups and religious leaders are considerably easier to persuade than others. Fundamentalists of any belief might not want to become involved in a project that might also celebrate. secular culture, pop music and alternative lifestyles. In such cases it might be worth trying to find a supportive member of the group or faith concerned and getting him or her to do some advocacy on your behalf. Sometimes you will just have to admit defeat, but often it is a question of patience and persistence and the magnetic attraction of good practice.
Consult with the Community
Your research will tell you who your community are. To some extent it may tell you about their needs. It won’t tell you what it is they might want from you. The organisations you contact will express their own wishes, but there will almost certainly be sections of your community who are not represented by anyone else. If they won’t come to you, you have to make the effort to go to them. This is community consultation.
Community consultation is another example of a small but lucrative industry that has attached itself to the community development and regeneration process. Local authorities are obliged by law to offer independent proof that their investments in communities are welcome and effective. So private companies and research units (most of which seem to be reputable and well regarded, it must be said) have sprung up offering to tell providers exactly what communities think of the interventions which have been made or proposed. These companies often also market themselves to community groups and non-statutory service providers.
It would be entirely understandable for a community radio station to commission such a consultation. But it would be costly, and there is a lot to be said for the station to do this work itself. The actual process may tell you more about your community than the results. A community consultation – at least in a station’s early days – should be aimed at two specific questions:
- What does the community need from its community radio station?
- What does the community want from its community radio station?
Getting the answers to those questions is not as easy as it appears. Since community radio is largely new to the public and most people are not aware of its potential, if you simply stop people in the street and ask them those two questions, the answers would mostly be: “erm, nothing much I can think of right now” and “good tunes and no annoying DJs.” That really doesn’t take you very far (although you should never forget the latter!). So you have to find ways to get past people’s stock responses to find get useful input. The ways in which this can happen include:
- Structured interviews designed to identify individual needs and wishes – including the needs that they might not immediately expect a radio station to be able to fulfil.
- Group discussions and focus groups. These are excellent for raising issues of conflict and disagreement within your community and getting a sense of where the consensus may lie.
- Shorter interviews conducted with a much larger sample group. If you ask 5,000 people the same few questions, some useful answers will emerge eventually. Even if it takes a long time to find them.
- Invitations for feedback and input. If you are already functioning and broadcasting, use your platform to ask people what they want. Or call a public meeting to which people can bring their ideas. Just be aware that those who shout loudest aren’t always those whose need is greatest.
However you conduct your community consultation, the same guiding principles apply:
In your early days:
- Conduct extensive research into your community and its needs.
- Find out what community groups are out there.
- Engage with other organisations and establish how your projects could be mutually beneficial.
- Also speak to those who have nobody to speak for them.
- Only consult on what you intend to change. If you are committed to playing 70% pop music but need to know what community service output you should be broadcasting, just don’t ask about music.
- Be careful and competent. An incomplete or inaccurate community consultation can send you in the wrong direction. Make sure you ask questions that give you useful answers, not the answers you want to hear.
- Make your data useable – don’t ask too many open questions but give your respondents a range of answers from which you can derive statistics – e.g. only 5% of the community want annoying DJ’s.
- Be representative. Whichever methods you use to consult your community, make sure the voices and opinions you hear represent the full spectrum of your community – especially those parts of the community that don’t push themselves to the front of the queue.
- Use what you find. A community consultation is only useful if its findings are actually acted upon. Anything else is window dressing.
Sustaining your Outreach Work
In the early days, a community radio station may have to be positively evangelical in selling itself to potential partners and members of the community. You will be operating on promises and potential, rather than a good track record. You will be straining to find every section of your community and bring them on board. You will be working hard to mould your station into one that is useful, effective and representative of the community you serve. This may feel like an uphill struggle when you are new and have a small amount of airtime to your name.
As the months and years go by the nature of your outreach work will need to change. You will always find more community groups that are just starting up or that had previously been uninvolved. Your research into your community will have to be ongoing, as communities and their needs can change surprisingly quickly and you must keep up. There will always be yet more sections of the community that you realise had previously been overlooked that you must bring into the family. But the work stretches beyond that too. It includes:
- Evaluating and monitoring your partnerships.You need to keep talking to your community partners to ensure that you are providing the service they need and that they are happy with the relationship. Your partners will appreciate opportunities to offer feedback, especially if it is a formalised approach (such as a set questionnaire) that also demonstrates your excellent organisational qualities.
- Increasing involvement.It is natural that both you and your partners might want to start out tentatively, without too much commitment of time, effort, resources or cash. But as successful projects are notched up, you should want that level of involvement to increase. A community group might only want the occasional announcement to begin with, but suggest they come into the studio as guests, then as guest presenters, then perhaps eventually as hosts of their own show. Just beware of pushing too far or too fast. You don’t want to overstretch your partners and risk losing them altogether.
Your outreach work:
- Involves continuing the hard work you did at the beginning.
- Requires you to maintain a dialogue with all your partners and keep them happy.
- Involves constantly increasing and improving your work with partners.
- Should be self-generating. The better you do it, the easier it is to do thanks to your track record.
- Involves making sure you get the best out of your partners, in order for them to get the best out of you.
- Improving involvement. You can help community groups achieve their objectives. To do so you first need to understand what their objectives are – don’t make assumptions about their priorities. Tailor their involvement to their needs (and of course to yours too.) Work to constantly improve their practice both at the radio station and in their other activities too. The more self sustaining their input is, the more time saved for your team – even if you have to invest your time to train them at first.
- Using your track record. Once you have conducted some successful projects it should become easier to sell similar projects elsewhere. Your pitch is much easier if you can go to a school and say “we can help improve your pupils’ performance, behaviour and attendance – and we know we can because we have already done it at the school down the road.”
- Keeping a balance of fun and function. Some organisations will be delighted to get involved, simply because they have one or two members of staff or volunteers who think making a radio show would be much more fun than whatever it is they usually do on a Wednesday morning. That is natural and healthy. But make sure they don’t have such fun that they forget they have a duty to serve their own community, and a duty to the station to produce useful and enjoyable programming.
- Not relying on enthusiastic individuals. With funded projects or service contracts in particular, if only one teacher or project worker is driving the partnership, if that person moves employment or falls ill the whole project could collapse. This could have serious financial consequences. Try to ensure that the wider partner organisation is supportive and kept informed, even if their engagement is, as is often the case, driven by one enthusiast..
- Bringing in service users as well as service providers. If left unchallenged, many agencies will think they have an opportunity to lecture listeners about their services and make some announcements. This can mean terrible radio. Encourage all partners to involve their service users and members of the public in the making of radio, for the sake of the listeners if nothing else.
Ethnic Representation and non-English Language Programming
The Community Radio Order 2004 (see Regulation) specifically encourages stations to include ethnic minorities in their work. In many urban areas, serving communities where English is not the first language is one of the most useful and necessary functions of a community radio station. This is particularly important with groups of refugees and asylum seekers, who often face problems of isolation, extreme poverty and post-traumatic stress, but also have to suffer negative stereotyping, media demonisation and often outright racism.
Work with minority language communities takes two forms:
- Support of that community. That is partly off air – assisting with employment, training and the other benefits gained from working with a community radio station, as with any other volunteer (see Volunteers). And it is partly on air – advice about services, public health, community news etc and just the companionship and pleasure to be taken in hearing one’s first language spoken on local radio.
- Promotion of that community. Every ethnic minority has much to offer the wider community in terms of culture, commerce, common interest and friendship. A radio station can bring that to the fore through the involvement of that community in the stations output outside of ‘their’ programmes. Furthermore, if the radio station offers an internet stream or simulcast it can offer a great opportunity for ex-patriot communities to keep strong links with their country of origin, which is often very important for local community pride.
VOX BOX **
“The presenters of our Somali show originally walked in off the streets to one of our RSL’s, in Hulme before moving on to us. They were refugees and asylum seekers who at the time had no group to represent them at all. A genuine community built up around their show and now, a couple of years on, they are setting up their own community group, with funding for service contracts and paid staff.”
David Armes, Community Development Worker, ALL FM.
Making initial contact with minority language communities can be difficult. This tends to be less about language itself – there will always be someone who speaks good (or good-enough) English who you can talk to. A more common problem is finding a route of communication. Who do you approach? With established minority groups there will usually be ethnic community centres or representative committees, but with more recent arrivals the community may be dispersed and unorganised. It is worth building good connections with agencies and services that work with new immigrants, refugees and asylum-seekers, and beyond that use your common sense. If you know that there are recent arrivals from Somalia living in a particular area, get a few sentences of invitation translated into Somali and pin it up in the Post Office window or ask the owners of a local African café if they know anyone who may be interested. Informal outreach like that can often be more effective than official channels of communication.
Foreign Language Programming
Community stations in highly culturally diverse areas (Manchester’s ALL FM, Bradford Community Broadcasting and Hackney’s former Sound Radio, for example) may serve a community (or communities) with more than 30, 50 or even 100 different first languages. It may be literally impossible to find space on the schedules for them all, but it is a worthy ambition. Just how you fit your non-English broadcasts around the rest of your scheduling is only for you to decide. Some guiding principles might be:
- To schedule non-English programming at the same time each day. Listeners know that if they tune in at certain times on any day of the week the programming will usually be non-English or bi-lingual.
- Bearing that in mind, it is still important to find appropriate times or days of the week to broadcast to the relevant population. Different cultural communities may have different points of the week when – because of days of worship perhaps – they are more or less likely to be able to listen to the radio. This will be important for your listeners and potentially your advertisers too.
- Proportionality doesn’t matter too much. What does matter is that as many different languages as possible are represented, whether they comprise 0.3% of the population or 30%. We may get ten times as many listeners to a programme in Urdu than we do to a programme in Edo, but the value of the programme may be ten times greater to the Edo speakers. That said, if there is only one space on the schedule, it is probably right that it goes to the larger community.
- Encourage minority language presenters to make regular concessions to English speakers, even if that is only a station ident: “You are listening to the Xanekin Show on Anytown FM 87.5 community radio, broadcasting to the Kurdish-speaking community of Anytown every Monday from 7 to 9pm.” Apart from anything else, dial-surfing listeners are often intrigued by non-English language programming and keen to find out what it is and what station they are tuned to.
- Perfect translations are rarely necessary. Shows in which one person says something in one language and then someone else translates it word for word tend to be dull and very difficult to listen to at length – you may end up alienating speakers of both languages. However bi-lingual feature items or short interview spots can make great radio if used in short bursts.
Your work with ethnic minorities and non-English speakers:
- Should be on air and off.
- Involves support and promotion of those communities.
- Should be as far reaching as possible, but not necessarily proportional to the size of communities.
- Should make allowances to English-speaking listeners, but doesn’t need simultaneous translation.
- Is crucial to your mission to be necessary.
- Non-English programming is part of the station identity and brand, not a separate ‘ghetto’ schedule. Cross-trailing and branding (see Cross Trailing) should include programmes of all languages. It is something to be proud of, not to put up with.
- Don’t restrict your presenters to narrow community interests. It is patronising to assume that people from Albania will only want to hear Albanian music or issues directly related to Albanian culture. The presenter of ALL FM’s Potwari language show is a keen dub reggae enthusiast, and divides his show equally between the music of Kashmir and the Caribbean, thus the show’s title – ‘Riddim & Raag’. That’s a fine example of community radio sitting at the cutting edge of modern multiculturalism.
- Ensure that your presenters understand that station rules and laws surrounding broadcasting (libel, incitement, contempt etc) apply equally to non-English output. While you may not speak the languages being broadcast, stress that if there is any complaint you will get a translation of the show from the ROT and take any appropriate action necessary, including disciplinary proceedings.
- Don’t worry about losing audiences. Yes, some listeners will hear a foreign language spoken and turn off. Others will let the radio babble away for ages before they even notice that it is not babbling in English. You will also pick up listeners from foreign language communities who will stay with you through the rest of your schedules. Above all, remember our favourite slogan: ‘Don’t be popular. Be necessary.’
Working with Young People
The biggest problem most community radio stations have with young people is keeping them away. Radio is an attractive activity for many youngsters and you may be inundated with children and teenagers wanting to train and broadcast. Some community stations (e.g. Takeover Radio in Leicester) are run entirely by and for young people. This is one of the most effective and rewarding sections of the community to work with and most stations will want to involve as many as possible. working with youngsters does raise its own problems and issues however, and can be more demanding than working with other sections of the community.
“Community radio has to be about taking risks. Sticking an eight-year-old in front of a microphone is taking a risk. Things will go wrong, and when it does go wrong you can’t get stressed about it, you just have to get on with it. It’s absolutely barmy when you think about it. To say we’re going to take an eight-year-old who’s at risk of exclusion and give them a radio show – that is madness, but it’s a nice kind of madness. It goes with the territory. You have to sit down and explain the score, that they are responsible, and in 99.9% of cases they rise to that challenge really well, and they end up making really cracking radio. We did a programme on fashion recently, and a young listener phoned in saying that they didn’t have designer clothing and that they were getting bullied because of that. This great conversation emerged on air, the presenter dealt with it with great sensitivity, and it was fantastic, just because it was two children talking about subjects that mattered to them.
“Community radio engages with its audience. We had one presenter recently who went on air and said he hated the Crazy Frog record. He said he wouldn’t play it unless he got a hundred texts in the next hour. It took fifteen minutes. For a small radio station that is a serious response! Another presenter on air said he was really hungry and could somebody send him a pizza. Twenty minutes later, Domino’s turned up on the door with two massive pizzas. It hadn’t been ordered by a listener, it was the shop themselves who’d been tuned in. That is the power of community radio.”
Robin Webber-Jones, Trust Manager, Takeover Radio children’s station, Leicester.
Different skills and different approaches may be needed. Here are some of the issues to think about.
- Child protection. Any member of staff or volunteer who works directly with people under the age of 16 – but good practice suggests the age of 18 – needs a DBS (Disclosure Barring Service) check before they begin. Anyone who does not have a DBS certificate should not be in any way involved in work with young people and should never be left alone with them. This may raise difficulties if, for example, an adult volunteer and a minor are working on unrelated projects on different computers in the same room at the same time. In practice it may be necessary to specify times when young people will be at the station and asking other volunteers to stay away between those hours.
- Behaviour. It is a fact of life that children often act like, well, children. Their attention span may be shorter than adults, they may get bored or distracted more easily. The temptation to horse around (especially when excited) can sometimes be irresistible. Keep training and production sessions short and snappy with lots of short-term goals and targets to keep their sense of achievement and engagement high. Nobody wants to be seen as a disciplinarian, but sometimes a stern word is helpful and doubly clear setting of boundaries is vital
- Listen to what they want to do and give them as much autonomy as possible. But it is important that this is backed up by training in good radio skills and that young broadcasters understand their responsibility to the listeners to produce enjoyable shows. Young people aren’t always the best judges of editorial content, although often they will astound you with their instincts
Schools and Youth Services
Many community radio stations will work directly with young volunteers, either individually or as part of after-school or holiday schemes. However the most effective tactic is often to form partnerships with organisations that already exist to work with young people. These generally fall into the following categories:
- Schools. Either within their formal classes or their extra-curricular activities.
- Statutory youth services. Mostly local authority youth services, social services youth departments and any independent or community groups who are funded to provide such services.
- Voluntary youth groups. Youth clubs, Scouts, Guides, young people’s faith groups, arts clubs, youth drama clubs etc.
The experience of working with each may be very different. Youth work tends to be less formal than school projects, and often aimed less at learning goals and more at diverting, entertaining or simply containing sometimes difficult and troubled youngsters. And of course any two groups, any two schools even, can be substantially different to each other.
Working with young people:
- Is one of the most rewarding and effective functions of a community radio station.
- Requires close attention to child protection and legal checks.
- Requires particular skills and training.
- Can be done directly or through partnerships with other groups and services.
- Should reflect the wide differences within the youth community.
Whatever their nature, these organisations will all have stated aims and objectives, and involvement with a community radio station can help achieve them. Such partnerships will often bring the advantage of trained specialist staff (teachers, youth workers etc) who will supervise the young people, easing many of the problems raised by working with such groups. And they may also be able to help you financially, either by paying directly for the services you offer or by opening new channels of funding.
Whatever the nature of your work with children and young people, bear in mind that they are as diverse a section of the population as the adults in your community. They are as varied in their tastes, interests and abilities, have as many cultural and religious differences and they can’t be categorised simply as ‘the kids.’ You must represent the full spectrum of your junior community just as you do with their parents.
There is a mass of information about training young people on another Radio Regen web site – www.connecttransmit.org.uk
Working with Religious Communities
People with religious beliefs make up a sizeable proportion of any geographical community, and religious groups, places of worship and faith-based agencies tend to be among the most active and visible community groups around. Moreover religion is an important part of many people’s personal and social lives. A community radio station that refuses to engage with religious groups risks alienating itself from a significant section of the population and their needs. On the other hand, religious broadcasting can alienate (and often infuriate) people of different or no faith. There is no perfect balance, and different stations must draw their own policies according to the nature of their community. There are many grey areas in such issues, and many close judgements need to be made along the way. Radio Regen’s policy is broadly as follows:
- A community radio station is an appropriate place for religious groups to promote their activities and events, but not their beliefs to the exclusion of others. We will not allow preaching or evangelical broadcasting. This often causes distress to broadcasters who feel a strong urge to share their own ‘good news’ with others, but is a necessary rule if you are not to lose the support of the parts of your community who have a different definition of ‘good news’..
Working with religious groups and individuals:
- Is an important and useful function of a community radio station.
- Doesn’t mean your studio should become a pulpit.
- Requires sensitivity to listeners of all beliefs and none.Individual behaviours and lifestyles (for example, with regard to sexuality) should never be condemned or criticised on religious or moral grounds.
- Religious issues can and should be discussed and debated, but only within the normal rules of neutrality and balance. Ideally, controversial issues should have both (or all) all points of view represented, with a neutral host.
- Encourage particular sensitivity among your broadcasters when referring to religions other than their own. Particular religious beliefs should never be singled out for criticism and would land you in big trouble with Ofcom.
- Religious music is welcome if it is programmed for its musical rather than religious value.
- Make sure faith-based broadcasts are clearly branded as such continuously. People need to know the context of what they are hearing.
- Bear in mind that secular, humanist and atheist viewpoints have just as much right to be represented as any other moral system or religion.
Radio Regen has taken this view in an effort to be fair and to facilitate our mission of representing the whole community. There are religious groups amongst the first round of UK full time licenses and obviously those groups will have a different stand-point. We would advise any religious group holding a license to pay full attention to OFCOM’s rules over balance and impartiality if they are to avoid a getting to know OFCOM’s enforcement personnel too well.
Drawing the Line
Community development is an endless task. There will always be more organisations, groups, agencies and clubs out there waiting to be found. There will always be people who would benefit from what you offer. You could always do that bit more with your existing partners. Staff with responsibility for community development must pay particular regard to the dangers of stress and burn-out, as there will always be another evening meeting to attend, another early morning phone-call to make.
Building the capacity of your partner groups to make their radio without your input will be an investment in time well spent. Those groups who are themselves willing to spend the time getting to that stage could also be the ones who deserve most of your attention.You must be realistic about what you can achieve. That means being realistic about how many groups and individuals you can feasibly find and make contact with, but also how many you can accommodate with your facilities, staff, airtime etc. There is little point in having a contacts book that brims over with the names and numbers of local organisations if you then can’t offer them anything.
Your community development work
- Is potentially infinite.
- Has to stop somewhere.
Prioritise the work you think is most important. Be flexible in what you offer potential partners and how you approach them. Sometimes your priority will have to be reaching out to the organisations that can provide the best funding opportunities. Other times you will be motivated purely by an immediate pressing need among one section of your community. There is no simple rule as to where to draw the line. Set attainable targets for community development and think about your achievements, not your failures. There should be plenty.