Archive for December, 2010

A very common phenomenon that I have witnessed in these years of my engagement with Participatory Video and communities is that of discontinuation of the process by virtue of sustainability issues, mostly of the financial kind. Endless hours, efforts and funds, by way of grants or otherwise, are spent on equipment and other allied costs – the community producers make impactful media that change the local social landscape, in terms of development, growth, etc…, and stop when the funding stops. The ‘media producers’ can’t fend, for themselves and further projects.

Media all over the world is usually, a money-making enterprise. What’s so different then, with local, community-produced media? Why is there, usually, a struggle to sustain such enterprises? One reason, of course, is the source of funds.

As Herman and Chomsky detail in ‘Manufacturing Consent’, a usual mass/mainstream media house earns majorly from advertising houses (by which, it is also often, said to be held hostage) and/or funding by political parties (similar story), and propaganda is spread due to such financial allegiances. The locally community-produced media on the other hand, are adopted by a NGO, or a social enterprise or a for-profit grassroots production house. For them the question is, do they earn from local advertising, or stay away from any form of advertising or accept only ethical advertising – to fathom, what are the other forms of income that exist?

(Welcome to Community Video Training)

Aiming to realize different forms of income for sustenance, certain NGOs in India, working with Community Video, have tried many ways of making themselves financially sustainable. They’ve taken on projects for other NGOs and made videos for them for a fee; sold their films for a charge to other NGOs and/or even community members during festivals and fairs; made marriage videos and other such, for earnings. There have been many similar small enterprises, but they haven’t really become ways that could sustain them.

In the book, ‘Guidebook on Sustainability’ for Community Radio (CR), the authors study four CR Stations in Africa, and talk about income from donations, ‘commercial’ and ‘development’ advertising, community announcements, programme sponsorships, grants, sales of promotional items, like caps, T-shirts, community greetings etc.. Another book, ‘Financial sustainability model for CR stations in South Africa’, offers exactly that – a financial sustainability model. However, it hasn’t been easy for CR Stations to earn an income and financially sustain, which has been mentioned as the biggest challenge for the success of such independent stations.

Many a times, the economy of the area is too weak to even provide local advertisement opportunities or even people paying for community announcements, etc…, also rendering the donation and/or funding concepts, completely unreliable. I have known very few community/participatory video initiatives from across the world that have lasted the years, like the Chiapas Media Project, with indigenous communities in Mexico.

There have even been some discussion and work around linking local community media to mass media and generating incomes, like, media houses buying stories from these ‘community journalists’. This, in effect, also brings in other questions, like, would the community journalists indulge in voyeurism, to sell their stories to the mainstream media (some connections to ‘Peepli Live’ – the movie)? Or, would the mass media start broadcasting stories meaningful to marginalized communities and the media scene slowly start changing, reducing the wide gap of ideologies?

Then there’s of course, the ‘intent’, which plays harder in establishing roles, when it comes to adaptations of models. A profit-making venture at a local level, for example, might well have its social ethics and sense of responsibilities in place, whereas, a NGO may not be transparent about its earnings and disbursals.

It’s not easy, but what’s inspiring, is that efforts are on, with newer and more innovative ideas coming on board, on how to make community media financially sustainable, maybe even without grants and funding. From simple starts, like making marriage videos to offering professional video-making services to the corporates and NGOs, community media has come a long way. With the kind of thinking and work around it, its sustainability definitely is not unachievable, but complex indeed, especially with the surrounding ethos and ethics.

It’d be great to know of more ideas that might help such initiatives sustain themselves, and would be wonderful to hear from any of you, in this process of supporting locally-endeavoured community media.

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