New Directions Conference by the Community Media Association

On 11th June 2011 Liz attended the Community Media Association’s AGM and conference on behalf of Prescap/Preston FM, to network and find out the latest news and info from around the UK. There are now hundreds of community radio, tv stations and other content producing channels, which goes hand in hand with literally thousands of volunteers being involved at every stage in these processes. The CMA support these organisations and charities in many different ways (most of them going un-noticed by most of their members), including lobbying government, talking to large organisations such as the BBC on behalf of the sector, and trying to make sure community media and it’s members are getting a fair deal. Community media is a relatively new sector, and is still building it’s trust in the communities it serves and the wider picture of national focus and funding.
Liz said, “Community media is, and should be all about social gain and what people get out of being involved” a statement and belief that was discussed and questioned today.
The keynote speaker, Kevin Carey, the Chair of the Community Radio Fund Panel gave a fantastic speech about what he thought was the best and worst about community media. He was of the opinion that it was better to be edgy, thought provoking and different rather than “just all neat and tidy”. The Radio Fund is a very sought after pot of money for most of the community radio stations around the UK and Kevin pointed out that “funding is there to sift out the passion from the @?!%”, and yes, you really only get into hosting, supporting or running a community media project if you truly love the job and have the right ethos and reasons for wanting to be involved, “otherwise you don’t last long at the job”.

One session close to Liz’s heart was the Arts and Community Media workshop, where we were introduced to one of the poetry projects, a collaboration between All FM in Manchester and the Manchester Literary Festival. Tamar Millen from the CMA explained the details of the project and Liz liked the sound of the “creative producers” that were trained up and “creative responses to the environment” that would be asked of the listeners in response to the project.
Some of Liz’s favourite quotes from the pieces included “the meditation of a solitary swan” and “manuscripts of beer cans and crisp packets”.
Tamar talked of promoting ourselves as not only a radio station but as a “platform, producer and partner” to appeal to a wider more creative participatory backgrounded audience and funders.
Next up, MonTV talked about their part in the YourLocal.TVNetwork and the advantages of being an online, streaming on-demand service to share content, especially to those in rural areas. They also enable the local community to upload their own content and have a clever system in play to suss-out producers. They say that if someone has uploaded 10 separate videos with no need for editorial intervention, they can them become auto-publishing. This enables not only the producers to feel empowered to know their content is going straight onto the web for people to watch, but also helps with an element of time checking and administration for every posted video.

Then the final presentation of the day came from Gari Sullivan, on the Australian model of community radio. A very interesting look at a way the other side of the pond is doing things, but not something Liz would really agree with. “It’s fantastic that in Australia there are apparently more community radio stations that commercial ones, but they are produced ‘for the people’ rather than ‘by the people’ which is the model community radio is striving to be in the UK (if they have the correct CMA based ethos).” Australia seems to focus on a station for everything ‘a bit specialist’ across a wide broadcast area, rather than focussing on geographical remits. This seemed to cause a lot of debate about what community radio should be – should a person with speech problems be allowed to broadcast? Or should they be told they just won’t sound ‘professional’ enough? Very much the ethos and feeling in the room was that this was the totally wrong way to look at it, and for a community radio station in the UK with a full time licence, it was all about social gain… and yes the person who can hardly get out a sentence should be allowed on the radio, because it wasn’t the point of if it sounded good or not, it was the fact that said person would be getting an amazing amount of things from it – confidence, feeling of achievement, having the opportunity to do something they would probably never get to do elsewhere commercially. There are ways around reducing the time between each word if the space is enormous and this just takes a little editing. “This should be done on the preference of the individual though, but we have found if we have pre-recorded someone with speech impediments and then edit them to sound more ‘normal’ (for want of a much better word), they have really enjoyed listening to themselves back sounding similar to the people they talk to daily who have regular speech patterns, however on other occasions the buzz they get from doing a live show is much greater. To see someone in this situation, have an amazing experience, outweighs anyone saying that it shouldn’t happen. I ask them to come in and see the smiles on people faces when they come out of the studio after their programme and say that it isn’t worth it to potentially loose a few listeners. If listeners never come back because they are offended that this type of programming and volunteer is broadcasting, then community radio just isn’t for them.

The rest of the conference consisted of a representative of the BBC talking about the Community Media and BBC Memorandum of Understanding and the future it potentially holds; shared sponsorship and advertising on a national level; and introductions from the Community Media Forum of Europe, which the CMA is a member of –

All in all, a very thought provoking, inspiring and productive day for not only Liz, but the community media sector locally, nationally and internationally. “Bringing like-minded people together in a room, always sparks ideas and I’m sure there are some seedlings growing right now that we will see as fully fledge projects in future. “

Update - And here's the link to the youtube video of Kevin's Keynote speech from Somerset Film -