Public Policies and Media, the Future of Community Radio in Central and Eastern Europe


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The CM sector is a diverse sector that operates differently across the EU. While the sector shows significant activity in some Member States, it barely exists in others. The various degrees of CM activity across the EU, to some extent, depend on different national and regional regulations as well as on the historical circumstances of each Member State. The levels of activity are also closely related to public awareness and legal recognition of the sector. In general, CM require clear recognition and clear roles in national media law as well as an increased awareness amongst regulatory authorities regarding its nature and its needs – specifically with regards to spectrum allocation, license fees, public interest, digital switch-over and must carry rules. In the past two decades the CM sector has experienced more support from governments in North-Western European countries than in Central and East Europe. In many of the countries that today comprise the so called new EU Member States, the sector has experienced a slightly different history. Following the transition of most of these countries to embrace democratic governance, many media laws were reformed in the mid 1990s. Hungary is amongst these countries.

An emblematic case: Hungary
CM were legally recognised as such in Act I of the 1996 Law on Radio and Television Broadcasting. Two main factors positively influenced that recognition: In 1991 a moratorium was imposed on reviewing the media act until fair procedures regarding the passing of new media regulation were guaranteed. During these 6 years, some pirate radio initiatives joined forces with parliamentary members to lobby for the recognition of the sector. Additionally, the transition to democratic governance resulted in general awareness regarding the importance of having a healthy civil society sector. This helped the regulators to acknowledge the importance of having a “third media” sector next to private media and public service broadcasting.

Act I of the 1996 Law on Radio and Television Broadcasting recognised the specificities of a “non profit broadcasting company”, defined as a “broadcaster who/which agrees to serve national, ethnic or other minority goals, cultural aims or an underprivileged group, or intends to serve as the public forum of a community”. According to this Media Law, non-profit broadcasting companies did not have to pay the broadcasting fees required by private operators. The broadcasting authorities were required to issue them an eight hour licence for minority of interest programs without inviting for tender. Overall, non-profit broadcasting companies were also given priority in licensing whenever 80% of the population of a given area or region already had access to two commercial local broadcasting services. The Hungarian model has been a good case study on how to use momentum and join political forces to create awareness of CM in a Central European Member State.

A changing environment
After the general election in the spring of 2010, life in Hungary changed in a number of ways. Legislation and enactment have speed up and non-governmental voices have had limited effectiveness during these processes. A new era began for community broadcasting in Hungary as the 2010 law CLXXXV relating to Media Services and Mass media was passed on 22 December and came into force on 1 January 2011. On the one hand the sector was satisfied with the fact that the community media service was again codified in the media law, while on the other hand the definition formulated by the Law is considered inappropriate and too loose.  The new law doesn’t contain the ‘small community radio’ category, and presents almost impossible requirements for the volunteer-based radio stations such as regular coverage of the news of a given social or local community, providing cultural programmes, at least four-hour broadcasting time every day, 66% public service content, 50% of the music played must be Hungarian, etc. The advertising guidelines didn’t change, so community media providers can still  broadcast six minutes advertisement in one hour.

The biggest concern is caused by the idea of describing local commercial  radios such as public-programme providers and small community radios into one category called ‘linear community media service provider’. This new category does not  include the small community radio stations, but also makes it possible for local and regional commercial  broadcasters to apply for registration as a linear community broadcaster, with access to financial resources previously only intended for the community stations and in addition no longer having to pay the broadcasting licence fee. A large number of previously and newly formed local commercial radios have thus applied for this status because of the available advantages.

The Media Authority registered 157 applications before the deadline, but only about 70 came from real community broadcasters. By the end of December 2011 the majority of those stations which received new linear community media service provider status were professional, local or regional commercial- style or religious radio stations. Many of these stations are directly or indirectly linked to political parties (often the  governing political power), while some others openly exercise proselytism, putting in danger the real nature and principles of community radio broadcasters, inclusion, democratic ownership and access to all, as some examples.

A practice that might easily lead to the disappearance of genuine community radio activity in the country. Moreover, the tender for the annual financial support from the Media Authority came out at the end of January 2011 and very few community radio stations were granted this support. This situation was replicated  in 2012

The need for an International meeting on Public Policies in Central and Eastern Europe Countries

The emblematic case of Hungary, shows how the lack of clear definitions and guidelines for community media can lead to confusion and a non genuine pluralistic media landscape, which should be based on the presence of all, public, commercial and community media broadcasters. In many countries of Central and East Europe, the community media sector is completely  inexistent , while in some others restrictions and unclear regulations are limiting its development.  Next to the lack of specific laws, there is also a lack of underlying regulations regarding CM. The existence of transparent processes and evaluation criteria to award and manage CM’s access to radio spectrum, for example, varies throughout the EU and while some Member State’s take directly CM into account in their regulatory framework (eg: Slovenia), most media regulators in Central and East Europe have not yet implemented processes to distinguish a CM service from a local commercial media broadcaster.

There are several areas in which public policy can help CM to address key issues which can either promote or impede their future development.
• The need for a clear legal recognition of CM in media law.
• The need for regulations pertaining to radio spectrum licensing and digital switch-over that take account of CM.
• The need for an equitable public support to enable the sector to develop the capacities needed to operate in a more continuous and sustainable model.

Legal recognition is an important requirement to many CM in the new EU Member States. It provides certainty and protection to the sector and is generally, but not always, accompanied by the necessary licensing procedures and occasionally by financial support. Despite the social value of the sector has been recently reaffirmed by the Declaration of the Committee of Ministers on the role of community media in the promotion of the social cohesion and the intercultural dialogue , adopted by the Council of Europe on 11 February 2009, and the Resolution of 25 September 2008 of the European Parliament on Community Media in Europe (2008/2011 (INI)) , so far most Central and Eastern European CM organisations do not benefit from any definition by law.
In order to stress the importance of this media sector, the European Platform of Regulatory Authorities (EPRA) has recently launched a working group on local and community media which has been one of the focus of the recent 35th EPRA  meeting which took place in Slovenia, at the invitation of the Post and Electronic Communication Agency of the Republic of Slovenia (APEK)

These challenges, just to mention a few, will be the main focus of a 2 days meeting that will take place at the Central European University in Budapest the 8th and 9th of November 2012, gathering community media practitioners, representatives of regulatory Authorities and academics with the aim to clearly assess the situation and to address policy makers  in the establishment of guidelines in order to guarantee a truly pluralistic and inclusive media environment. 

Meeting Objective

The general objective of the International meeting is to raise awareness, facilitate local interaction and empowerment processes leading to  the reinforcement of dialogue and networking between local community broadcasters National regulatory authorities, academics and policy makers  in order to achieve a better comprehension of the various challenges related to the development of the community media sector in Central and Eastern Europe.

The main challenge is to understand what regulatory authorities can do even in the absence of a clear legislative framework related to the community media  development. In order to bring a single EU community media framework, sector and cross-cutting coordination is needed. Sector coordination will mean that all different actors (academicians, practitioners, regulators and policy makers) agree upon same principles. Cross-cutting, in the sense that member states launch services with an homogeneous legal framework, corresponding to European and International standards on community media, based upon the principles of pluralism, freedom of expression and democracy.

Specific objectives
•    To gather experts from European Union countries and from non European Union countries  with the aim to share information and best practice in the areas of pluralism and participatory processes within media in different contexts and regions and their impact on non commercial radio broadcasters
•    To ensure dissemination of and knowledge exchange on the current debate about strategies and actions aiming at developing the community local radio environment in Central and Eastern Europe.
•    To increase dialogue and alliances between Community Radio practitioners, academics, regulatory authorities and policy makers.
•    To establish a community of intent in order to enhance the political lobbying activities of Community Radios and National Community Radio Federations in Central and East Europe through networking, sharing of best practice, facilitation of communication and dialogue with policy makers.

Outputs and expected results

1.    Outreach of at least 50 radio stations in Central and East Europe, civil society groups, academics and regulators in 16 countries (Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Moldova Republic, Romania, Bulgaria, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Ukraine, Russia, Belarus)
2.    Increased dialogue and networking between Community radio representatives, academicians, regulatory authorities and policy makers
3.    Increased awareness on community radio challenges in Central and Eastern Europe
4.    A final political Declaration
5.    Establishment of a Plan of Action for the follow up of a joint work plan, road map and networking actions among participants aiming at improving the community media sector recognition as part of the European processes aimed to increasing media pluralism.


The meeting beneficiaries are:
•    Community, alternative, independent and social media activists in Central and Eastern Europe
•    Central and Eastern Europe Regulatory Authorities representatives.
•    Academics and their fellow students
•    Central and East Europe civil society organisations in general.


AMARC Europe
AMARC, the World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters, is the international non governmental organisation for the promotion, support and development of community radio worldwide. The international headquarters is located in Montreal, Canada.

AMARC-Europe is the European regional section of AMARC grouping together radios and their national federations from 20 European countries, a network of more than 500 community broadcasting services. The headquarters of AMARC-Europe were established in Sheffield, UK following the first AMARC Pan-European Conference of Community Radio Broadcasters held in Ljubljana,Slovenia, in 1994, which also adopted the Community Radio Charter for Europe.

From 2009 the main office of Amarc Europe is based in Brussels, where the organization is registered under the Belgian Law as an International NGO. The principal activities of AMARC-Europe are policy,
research and advocacy; training and exchange of personnel; programme exchange and co-productions; solidarity and co-operation between East, Central and Western Europe and with community radio broadcasters in other regions of the world.

Other Organizers
The content and logistics of the conference will be followed by a steering committee formed by AMARC Europe, the Central European University and the Hungarian Federation of Free Radios

Draft Schedule (Some participants to be confirmed)

November 12, 2012, morning

8.30 h – Registration of participants

9.30 h – Official opening session
Welcoming speech by: Hungarian National federation of Free Radios Representative

Emmanuel Boutterin, AMARC Vice-President

Keynote speaker: Gabriel Nissim, President of the Human Rights Commission Council of Europe
Video: Radio Student, celebration of its 40th Anniversary

10.30 h– coffee break

11.00 h  – Plenary session:  Public Policies and Media Pluralism: The Future of Community Media in Central and East Europe
Moderated by: to be confirmed

Emmanuelle Machet, Secretary General of the European Platform of Regulatory Authorities (EPRA)
Ernest Strika, Agencije za elektroničke medije, Croatia
Gulnara Akhundova, International Media Support (Azerbaijan)
Emmanuel Boutterin, AMARC Vice President

12.30 h  – Open discussion

13.00 h – Lunch Break

November 12, 2012, afternoon

14.30 h - First Meeting of Community Radios from Central and Eastern Europe

The meeting will be shaped as an assembly where radios will be called to highlight their direct experience, difficulties, challenges, and strength points. The aim is to reinforce the sector in this geographical area, trying to find common points for initiatives to be further developed.

Moderated by: TBC

17.00 h: Coffee Break


1. Cross-Cutting Sector  alliances: What regulators, academic sector  and community media can do together in order to improve the legislative framework of community media in Central and East Europe ? How to establish a homogeneous regulatory framework, corresponding to European and International standards. Mapping Europe project.
Moderated by: Sally Galiana,
AMARC Europe Vice President

2. Vanishing voices: Round table discussion with radio-leaders whose community radio had to finish operation since 2011, mainly because of the consequences of new Hungarian media regulation.
Moderated by: Hungarian National federation of Free Radios

18.30 h: End

19.30 h: Dinner

November 13, 2012, morning

9.00 h:  Plenary session: Which Future for Freedom of Expression and Pluralism in the Council of Europe Countries
Moderated by: to be confirmed

Maka Jakhua, Director Radio Green Wave, Georgia
Robert Mohoric, Radio Student (Slovenia)
Andriy Kulakov, Internews (Ucraine)
Csasai Gabor, Tilos Radio, Hungary

10.30 h– coffee break

11.00 h - Plenary session: Media Literacy and Civil Society Commitment
Moderated by: to be confirmed

Jack Byrne, Near Media Co-op (Ireland)
Kate Coyer, Central European University (US/Hungary)
Urszula Doliwa, Deputy Director European Broadcasting Union

12.30 - Reports from working groups and Recommendations

13.00 h – Lunch break

November 13, 2012, afternoon

14. 30 h Grundtvig Partners Meeting

16. 30 h Final Public Session

The Budapest Declaration on “Public Policies and Media Pluralism: the Future of Community Radio in Central and East Europe”

18.30 h – End of Forum