Our community voices: the birth of community television in Whangārei
How to create a sustainable community television station that met the needs of local communities in Whangārei was the objective of this research, and of Channel North itself. I was a participant in Channel North and led the action-research process which supported and recorded development between its on-air launch in 2008, through transition to digital broadcast, and into 2014 with strong local networks and collaborations. Participatory-action-research was the key methodology used in this research. I filmed and interviewed participants, interviewed external stakeholders, evaluated documents and kept journal reflections. The content, process, underlying ideas and hopes of the group were analysed for themes and social networks. Data was scrutinised from both people-centred and systems-thinking perspectives. The research found that a community-led development approach (involving community, state and business), while it had the strength of achieving an ambitious goal, did mean that the group struggled with their desire to encourage wide participation and yet be professional; and with their intention to collaborate with local groups and take challenging positions where necessary. That said, the research also found that the station’s team had developed strategies to involve young children; to promote the use of indigenous language; to support community partners and local small businesses; and to provide stepping stones for people through training that led them into media jobs. These strategies included the roles of skilled ‘know-how people’ to make filming and broadcast technically accessible, ‘connecting people’ to link to external groups and ‘coordinators’ to hold the operation together. Channel North came into existence through the dedicated work of local people. The project was a community commons providing local access to media story-telling and broadcast. I found that a more supportive government environment would contribute to its resilience, but it was the involvement of local people that both met communities’ needs and sustained the project.