There is an important distinction that should be clarified between community media as a whole and grassroots media. Community media can be a form a direct local level media; however, it also can be framed around a local issue pertaining to a community whose parameters can be national, international, and even global. Grassroots media on the other hand, as defined by Paul Riismandel of Mediageek, is focused more specifically on media making by and for the local community that it serves making the discussion more narrow and precise. There are a variety of other forms of media that may in some cases follow the community media model of access and participation but may have different social, political, and organizational strategies. Some of these forms of non-mass mediated forms of communication include alternative media, radical media, democratic media, participatory media, development media, and citizen media. Citizens' media, in particular, has some interesting characteristics. It is essentially a reframing of community media by Clemencia Rodriguez that focuses on small scale media projects that look to bring different visions and perspectives to the "codes" that are so easily embedded in the social psyche (Rennie, 2006, p. 23) . All of these variations and different focuses allude to another key characteristic of community media in its broader perspective; geographic scope.
It is because of the lack of accessibility and participation in the commercially mediated landscape that community media is a potential countervailing force which can serve the needs of various groups along a wide assortment of issues. Democracy implies the intention to rule in the interests of the people for the common good (Rennie, 2006, p. 6). As a communication platform crucial for the dissemination of social and political information, the media in a truly functioning democratic society should not veer from this fundamental tenet. This poses the question of whether or not media democracy and participation are prerequisites to a civil society. The final key characteristic of community media addresses this important aspect.
Community media in all its various forms is inseparably linked to the enhancement of a civil society and civic participation. The International Association of Media and Communication Research states that community media "originates, circulates, and resonates from the sphere of civil society (as cited in Rennie, 2006, p 4)." Rennie (2006) continues to elaborate on how, as media created by civil society, there is an implied component of civic engagement in the production of community media (p. 4). The democratic and participatory nature of community media allows a pathway for the exploration of civic duty which is all but lost in so many sectors of social life. Rennie (2006) points out that "civil society requires communication platforms (p. 35)." Community media, then, can be viewed as a tool readily available for the expression of a collective civic voice.
The first cable access station in the United States that qualifies as an example of community media was set up in 1968 in Dale City, Virginia. It was managed by the city's Junior Chamber of Commerce and ran programming for two years without advertising only to close due to lack of financing, equipment, and infrastructure (p.5). Another early example of community media is found in the counter-culture video collectives of the 1960s and 1970s.
Groups such as Videofreex, Video Free America, and Global Village sought to use new technologies to the benefit of community interests. In addition, the Raindance Corporation founded by Michael Shamberg, Paul Ryan, and others became known as "guerrilla television." The premise of guerrilla television was to non-violently blaze a new trail for the creation of media as an alternative to broadcast television. This initial activity was made possible by Sony's introduction of the video Porta-Pak (Olson, 2000, p. 6).
In New York City in 1970 two cable companies agreed to franchises in the borough of Manhattan. The two public access channels were soon cablecasting 200 hours of programming per week to a potential audience of 80,000 subscribers. Canada also has a central role in the development of community media and is by many considered the birthplace of community broadcasting (Rennie, 2006, p. 48). In the 1960s, the National Film Board of Canada set up a project called Challenge for Change which was a series of documentary films addressing socio-economic issues. Once again Sony's Porta-Pak proved revolutionary in Canada as well. In 1968, filmmakers Bonny Klein and Dorothy He`naut persuaded Challenge for Change to take on more local community issues. During the same year they trained members of the St. Jacques Citizens' Committee in video production. The committee went into the Montreal slums and captured interview footage with poor people and then presented the video in public meetings for discussion (Olson, 2000, p. 4)
Community radio also has a pivotal role historically as a community media outlet. Its history dates back to amateur radio organizations that formed in 1906 (Rennie, 2006, p. 62). From a historical perspective, the seminal example of community radio is Lewis Hill's Pacifica Radio. KPFA in Berkeley, California began broadcasting in 1949 after acquiring an FCC license for FM spectrum. This first Pacifica station was funded through listener support and philanthropic foundations. Pacifica's mandate, that Hill expressed as "to engage in any activity that shall contribute to the lasting understanding between nations and between the individuals of all nations, races, creeds, and colors," has served to frame the community media movement through its historical and technological development (Rennie, 2006 p. 64).
The historical context of community media which focuses on cable access television and community radio in the United States and Canada also extends to other models all over the world. England, Ireland, Italy, Denmark, the Netherlands, Germany, just to name a few, all have particular models community media platforms. The context for the development of community media in Europe, however, is different than North America. Kleinsteuber and Sonnenberg (1990) point out that community television and radio in Europe arose "from criticism of a monopolistic public service system that was considered out of touch (as cited in Rennie, 2006, p. 78). The two main themes that were the driving force of community media in Europe were the breakdown and decentralization of the this monopoly structure and the threat of amateur media to the public service monolith. The experimental period of community media expression in Europe began in the 1970s after North American cable access was underway. It was therefore seen as a model but also understood that the media environments were structurally different (Rennie, 2006, p. 82).
A powerful community media example external to both North America and Europe is the Bolivian Miners' Radio of the 1940s. The station was established by the local miner's union and became an important tool for communication, resistance, and educational and cultural expression (Rennie, 2006, p. 17).
People are constantly making community media if one broadens the conceptualization of the term. Community media is particularly evident when individuals face circumstances that test the human capacity to bond and connect. The organizational structures are different but the intent to get an idea out is exactly the same in all cases. Regardless of the issue and politics, citizens want to have an arena to express their ideas to others. This is the essence of a democratic society and the basis for the existence of community media in all its current forms.
Satellite television has a long history and the technology has advanced to a point where it provides a residential alternative to cable and broadcasting services. While the services are similar, satellite TV opens up another avenue for community media content and productions. In particular, Free Speech TV offers a variety of programming with direct and tangible community media possibilities. Radio has a long history in allowing communities to rally around various issues and provide a democratic and participatory platform of news information. Like television, radio is also subject to licensing requirements and spectrum availability. Radio is the most widespread electronic communications device in the world and community radio is a practical and cost-effective means of reaching and connecting the world's poorest communities (Rennie, 2006, p. 4). While many low power and microradio stations comply with the rules and regulations, other vibrant and vital stations have operated illegally only to be shut down by the FCC eventually.
Low-power television (LPTV) which was created in 1982 to give spectrum space for local programing is in some instances a form of community media. LPTV stations also often simply supply retransmission signals from the major networks, but they are a potential community media outlet. The introduction of digitized technology has created obstacles for both LPTV as well microradio due to the loss of spectrum availabity during periods of conversion. It remains to be seen how the switch from analog to digital will play out regarding community media (Rennie, 2006, p. 69).
The mode of community media that bypasses legal obstacles is print media. No special licensing is required to produce fanzines, newsletters, leaflets, etc. In societies where press freedoms are more repressed, print mediums may face some distributive challenges, but, given their underground nature, DIY projects find ways to reach the particular community often at relatively large scales.
Similar to satellite technology, the advancement of the digital environment that puts media production hardware, software, and equipment in the hands of the amateur consumer facilitates a virtual world of community expression. Essentially, the Internet is a space for the digital propagation of the aforementioned modalities of community media. For example, groups, organizations, and individuals can create video, audio, and text and graphics based media, upload it to the Internet, network it, and ultimately spark discussion, interaction, and real-life activities. Some examples are vlogs, blogs, audio and video podcasts, websites, and video and audio streaming. Rennie (2006) points out that the intitial discourse around Internet technology emphasized the important potential for democracy and participation within global and real-time contexts. This "cyberdemocracy" was premised on the direct relationship between technology and the growth of civil society (p. 164). Clearly, in terms of community media, the implications were (and still are) exciting. The initial discourse, however, has been complicated by the market and commercial forces that threaten to alter the democratic and open virtual environment of the Internet into one targeted on consumption and profit. Obviously, this would change the strategies of community media on the Internet and make it even more vital as a countervailing influence.
Rennie (2006) points out that community radio and television have consistently been in a binary position to the "dominant cultural policy objectives (p. 5)." For example, public access television in the United States has throughout its history been linked to policy. From its earliest form as community antenna television (CATV), the relationship between the FCC, the cable industry, the National Association of Broadcasters, and local municipalities and citizens can be likened to a roller coaster ride. The FCC recognized the public interest implications of public access television and in 1969 ordered cable companies to transmit their own programming as well as begin experimenting with community access channels (Rennie, 2006, p. 52). A downside of public access developing with a focus on the local is the lack of a national vision in terms of policy which consequently left ambiguity around community media as a whole (Rennie, 2006, p. 52).
In 1972 the FCC issued a Report and Order that sought to guide the role of the cable industry towards the benefit of the public interest. In addition, the new cable rules gave the FCC regulatory powers, set up the franchise agreement negotiations to be worked out by local governments and cable companies, and also via national policy mandated the setting aside of up to three channels for PEG use (Rennie, 2006, p. 53). The Supreme Court reversed this legally in 1979 when suit was brought by the Midwest Video Corporation arguing that their editorial right was being infringed upon. At the congressional and municipal levels, however, access remained mandated (Rennie, 2006, p. 54). The Cable Television Consumer Protection Act of 1992 did indeed restore cable companies' editorial control as it pertains to indecent material. A clause in the act allows " cable television operators - who by law have no say in access programming decisions - to ban "indecent" or "obscene" material, or " material soliciting or promoting unlawful conduct." Many access providers fear that cable operators - who have often considered access a thorn in their side - could use this clause to meddle with and possibly even shut down access centers. There has been little publicized evidence of what First Amendment freedoms are presently at risk (http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G1-15627401.html).
From these examples it is clear that policy has a great influence on community media. The Telecommunications Act of 1996, the beaten back proposals of the Chairperson Powell version of the FCC in 2003, and the recent legislation in the House of Representatives that succumbed to a congressional mid-term power shift are other examples of the role policy can play in the community media reality. Currently, the legislative battles are particularly consequential to the community sphere. Some of the key issues that are on the table today that have potentially dire consequences for community media include video franchise reform, community internet, network neutrality, and the continued trend of media consolidation. The shape that policy takes as well as the level of activism and grassroots organizing will be vital to the future of community media in the United States and the rest of the world. The digital era has enormous possibilities for civil society and democracy building. The activist issues are all interconnected and must be safeguarded in terms of access and participation so that the tools of community media are not usurped by the dominant social forces and rendered irrelevant.