Date Released: 21 March 2013
For some, the words “community radio” bring to mind small, amateur outfits, with a narrow focus on local issues and often with a short life-span.
The reality is very different – if the experience of Near FM is any kind of indicator. Near serves north-east Dublin and is this month celebrating 30 years on the airwaves.
Near started out in March 1983 as a tiny pirate station, tucked away in a disused room in St David’s School in Coolock and has grown to become a solid fixture in Irish broadcasting, with more than 100 volunteer broadcasters and 24-hour radio output.
The Near Media Co-op – now also producing TV and web content – is one of the driving forces in a broad movement that is seeking to build a democratised or “bottom-up” media, owned and produced by ordinary people as an alternative to commercial and state-controlled media.
In listenership terms, Near compares respectably with mainstream broadcasters in its north-east Dublin catchment area, but for those whose passion and work keeps the station going, the question of how many people are listening comes second to the question: who is making the programmes?
Near’s head of radio Sally Galiana, originally from Madrid, told Liberty: “Community radio is open to anyone, but in order to balance under-representation in mainstream media, we target certain groups and help them make programmes – for example, women, migrants, older people, young people and people with disabilities.”
Galiana, who is also vice president of AMARC Europe (the European association of community media broadcasters), said: “Community radio is completely different from mainstream radio. We look at people as potential volunteers rather than as someone to sell to.
“Mainstream media delivers information to people – we let people create their own information and decide what is important.”
As part of its mission to democratise media, Near trains local people in how to make programmes. There are weekly programmes made by Polish, Croatian and Brazilian people, broadcast wholly or partly in their native language.
Since 1995, the co-op has also offered “media literacy” training in north Dublin. Near FM co-founder Jack Byrne describes media literacy as the “first step” in creating an alternative media.
“Media literacy is about understanding the hugely powerful influence of mainstream media in shaping so many aspects of our lives,” said Byrne, who at the time of Near’s founding was a shop steward with the Marine, Port and General Workers’ Union (now part of SIPTU).
He describes media literacy as an “empowerment tool” for all citizens and is currently in discussion with several trade unions to provide media literacy training.
The community radio sector is thriving, with almost 25 stations in the Republic.
A Red C survey in June 2012 found that of adults living in the catchment area of community radio stations, 34% had listened to a community station in the previous week, which translates into 307,000 listeners.
In Near FM’s case, another survey showed that 12,000 people listen to the station in any given week.
Near has also branched into television. The co-op was one of the main players in the setting up of Dublin Community Television (DCTV) in 2008.
Thirty years of broadcasting is quite an achievement, but the folks at Near FM are not resting on their laurels.
The station has just launched a new ‘citizen journalism’ scheme in conjunction with the website boards.ie, which will train people to go out and gather news.
This could eventually feed into another ambitious idea that Near proposed at a major conference it hosted this month to mark its 30th birthday, “a national, alternative news service that would bypass the mainstream media and could be shared between all of the 30-plus community broadcasters on the island of Ireland.”
Watch this media space.
Near FM broadcasts on 90.3 FM and www.near.ie. DCTV is available on NTL channel 802.
For a list of community radio stations in Ireland, see www.craol.ie