While commercial media has benefited most from liberalisation, new policy environments in many countries have also sparked a mushrooming of community media, a trend also facilitated by falling technology costs and a substantial decrease in the price of entry into the radio market (see AMARC URL). The community radio movement in Latin America, which has a long tradition, is experiencing an unprecedented expansion, with hundreds of new licences being issued and the number of community stations reaching perhaps 10,000 across the continent. Peru alone has 4,000 community radio stations and Colombia has issued 500 new licences (Gumucio, forthcoming). In Africa, particularly in Francophone Africa (Sow, forthcoming), the growth in community radio has been almost as dramatic, with thousands of community radio stations across the region.
Commercial FM radio has revolutionised broadcasting in many developing countries, transforming broadcast environments from monolithic monopolies to a panoply of new actors. For developing countries, the role of radio in underpinning and enriching democratic debate and processes has been especially significant. Within a decade of liberalising its broadcast policy in 1993, the number of radio stations in Uganda increased from two to nearly a hundred; and the country’s FM sector has become famous internationally for its muscular political talk shows and for Ebimeeza – public discussions on political issues that are broadcast live.
Radio remains the most accessed medium in the world, and it is arguably this form of media that has undergone the most profound revolution in structure, content, audience and diversity, with profound impacts on the public sphere in many countries (Girard 2005). In 2004, there were more than five times as many radio sets per hundred people in low income countries than there were television sets. More people in the world have access to a radio signal (96%) than to a television signal (83%) (ITU 2003). According to a major recent study of African media, radio is the most accessible of all media, with both television and newspapers concentrated mostly in urban areas (AMDI 2007).