Posts Tagged ‘citizen media’

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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There is something about marginalized women making their own films. And it’s about something similar in all their experiences. I was (pleasantly) surprised to hear from Lauren Goodsmith of Communication for Change the same impacts on women that I heard from Sapna Shahani of WAVE, and that I have witnessed in my own work over the years. It is intriguing that women affected by gender-based violence during conflict in Liberia, women refugees in Thailand, women living with caste-based discrimination in Mumbai slums, and young girls from a Muslim community in Hyderabad share the same experiences. It has pushed me to think more deeply about what I call the Participatory Video Process.

I would want to define PV very simply as a participatory process during which marginalized people make their own video, and which is used to further a change-process at the personal, group, community and societal level. This process aims to build capabilities of the participants and drive their agency as citizens.

Millions of women, across the world, do not get the opportunities to act fully as citizens and have an active role in their own development. So, how does PV help do that? What is it about the process that has ‘empowered’ women to speak up, represent themselves and their issues, make their own decisions, and bring about a change?

My many conversations with PV participants are my major inspirations. During one of such conversations a woman mentioned, “I mark a change in my society as I am seen with a camera, I speak up and talk about community issues. People are proud of me now.” This is what motivates me to contribute towards the understanding of the PV process and extend it to more communities.

At the very onset, I would think it is erroneous to imagine that handing over a camera to her, is the end of the process. In fact that is where the complexities begin and that is where the opportunity lies to get women involved in this life-altering endeavour. It is definitely not linear, but a very iterative process. I describe it below. It is also not a prescription or a formula, but more a demonstration of how things can be done effectively:

1. Creating a Participatory Space

Women, often, do not have the space, where they are welcomed to participate in social, political or cultural issues. This non-participation extends from spaces, like households to like village meetings. Creation of such a space, where women can participate in the different arenas of life is one of the most basic steps.

2. Facilitating Shared Experience

The power of a participatory process in a group lies in the ability of people to share experiences. This works at two levels. First, they are able to share their own experiences. This sharing is very cathartic and eventually, self-esteem generating. Second, they are able to recognize that a lot of them share similar experiences. This realization gets people close, and forms a sense of togetherness and community.

3. Encouraging Expression

Expression is the one of the strongest ways of asserting one’s self. Women are denied expression in many ways. They are in endless forms, like being not allowed to speak up in front of men in their families, to books being banned written by women on sexuality, to not being allowed to take up certain kinds of profession, to rules on the clothing women have to wear and so on. Video becomes one form of expression. It is interesting to note that a ‘video story’ is not the only expression in this process. Through the medium of video, women express themselves in many ways, like, how they dress up in front of the camera, the way they talk (maybe authoritatively?), the kind of stories they bring out (like highlight women, who have broken the stereotypes), the gender perspective that they give to issues, the gender-sensitive solutions they offer, etc.. They even express and assert themselves, when they go around with cameras in their hands shooting in their communities.

4. Building a Community

As I mentioned before, having shared experiences builds a sense of community. That feeling needs to be converted, in terms of actually building a collective, a group, a community, that will get together to make changes. The opportunity to do so lies during the process of making the film, where the group of women is not simply making a film, but where they are being a community committed to gender issues. A larger community can be build from mobilizing audiences, People who watch these films should be inspired, and encouraged to think about change, and be a part of this community.

5. Ensuring Action

Inspiring and encouraging people or getting them emotionally involved with the issues is only an intermediary step. The actual impact lies in bringing people to action. The PV process does not end with just information dissemination. It bears the larger goal of bringing social change. The action can always vary from advocating with the government, to protests, to active citizen engagement in local civic issues, or even to aiming at behavioral change.

In the various contexts, I’m sure, there are, or can be experiences differing from the ones, I have mentioned here. There will be many underlying smaller processes that can hinder or further the PV process. What is ultimately needed to make it relevant to the change and development women want, is to be truly participatory and respect a participant’s needs, knowledge and understanding.

Thanks to:

  • All the wonderful women and girls I have had several formal and informal conversation with over 5 years of my engagement with PV.
  • Lauren Goodsmith from Communication for Change, for sharing the ‘Through our Eyes’ experience.
  • Sapna Shahani, who explained to me the whole thought behind WAVE.

You can watch some videos here:

Communication for Change

Videoactive Girls



Also, definitely see Videoactive Girls: Girls’ Media Toolkit if you want to start a video project with young girls. The PV Handbook for the field by InsightShare is another great resource.

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