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Alba Sud News | Communication for Development


The OurMedia Network Conference 2009

Yerina Rock

The OurMedia Network’s 8th conference was held this year in Medellin, Colombia, between the 27th and 31st of July. The event explored the role of communications in the construction of individual and collective narratives of conflict and coexistence.

When ‘Granada’, a small town in the high Andes of Antioquia, Colombia, was under heavy attack by the FARC guerrillas in late 2000, the only thing that was working was the community radio station. The radio never stopped transmission during the hours that a bomb and gunfire ended up killing close to 30 people during two days. The inhabitants of the town remember vividly how the psalms reaching them through their radio station became a lifeline during the hours of terror.

Nine years later in a neighbouring town of ‘La Ceja’, Prof. Clemencia Rodriguez tells us that in moments of crisis, community radios have not only been sources of providing basic information for survival, but can become important spaces where communities come together to make decisions and counteract the fear and isolation brought on by extreme violence.

This story is listened to by 120 people that have arrived from all over the world, and are spending a week together to think about and discuss the role of alternative media, especially in areas of conflict and their role in peace building. The two other pivotal areas of the week’s agenda are the experiences of young people and indigenous groups in the use of alternative media, especially how negative stereotypes and false information circulated by the mass media have been challenged by local and community media initiatives.

The OurMedia Network came into existence eight years ago in Washington DC, it was the brainchild of a group of veteran researchers of alternative media. It is a network of people that part from the assumption that communication is a right, and not a privilege; it questions the inequalities people face in accessing or being part of creating and distributing media. The network seeks to challenge these global inequalities from academia, through practice and by influencing policies and politics. Its purpose is to create a space that isn’t just academic but is able to create a dialogue between the theoretical and the practical, and is able to foster collaborations between these two worlds. The network is unique in its rejection of any kind of hierarchy between its members, and brings academics and practitioners together on an equal footing. The OurMedia conferences have passed through Washington DC (2001), Spain (2002), Colombia (2003), Brazil (2004), India (2005), Australia (2007), Ghana (2008), and this year the conference returns to Colombian soil.

During the week it became apparent that the more profound impact of community media during times of conflict was less about the immediate lifeline it provides and more about the community space it can become in the aftermath of violence. It can become a space for thinking and talking about the traumas of the past, but also transcending the conflict and recreating new cultures of informed and active citizens. Granada has seen a flourishing of community media since 2000 with the wide involvement of its inhabitants dedicated to these ends: newspapers, radio, a website, and television. Although these efforts can never guarantee that another attack will not reoccur, either from the FARC guerrillas or from paramilitary groups (who have also left high numbers of dead in the town), these media initiatives create a space for the community to dialogue about its past wounds and its responsibilities in a current context of conflict.

In closing the conference, and after having known many inspiring initiatives that have been born from below, from groups that reject the label of victims and are looking to take more control over their lives, we end with a warning to ourselves. It is important to remember we don’t have a magic formula on our hands. In communities, just as in all human groups, we know that some individuals have louder voices than others. We also know that just as conflicts exist outside communities, they also exist within. If we are looking to create lasting social change that benefits all, it is vital that we as academics and practitioners sharpen our eyes for the inequalities we constantly reproduce within our own communities, like sexism, homophobia, racism and classism etc., and remember that the voice of ‘the community’ doesn’t necessarily represent everyone.

If you are interested in joining the OurMedia Network, please visit our webpage

Yerina Rock is a Development Worker with Progressio, based with Fundación Puntos de Encuentro (Nicaragua), she is also collaborating with Alba Sud in their program ‘Communication for Development’.

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