ZaCoMeF is an effort to bring community media actors together to exchange ideas and develop strategies for supporting this sector. Inclusivity in membership and focus is a key programme theme. The forum caters to all community media initiatives and all forms of community communication (including traditional and/or folk media, such as live drama). Accessibility and local involvement are related emphases: in its definition of community media, ZaCoMeF focuses on accessibility as well as the degree to which community participation is actively supported and encouraged. Along these lines, ZaCoMeF sees community media as offering a platform to all members of the community so that members of marginalised groups such as women, youth, and children are given an opportunity to express themselves through a process of open dialogue. This process, fostered by community media, is envisioned as assisting communities in together identifying and resolving issues affecting them by using the information provided to drive their own development.
ZaCoMeF encourages its members to be active participants by engaging in the following 4 main areas of focus, including:
- Applied research: ZaCoMeF carries out research on issues affecting community media operations. This research is designed to address organisers' concern that there has not been enough information generation and sharing on community media initiatives and issues in Zambia, resulting in little understanding of the structural and operational aspects of community media.
- Advocacy and lobbying: ZaCoMeF seeks to respond to a perceived under-representation of the interests of the community media in media reform processes by engaging policymakers, media broadcast regulators, and other stakeholders in efforts to improve the context within which this sector operates. ZaCoMeF also lobbies for community ownership and control of their local media, through their own community-chosen leadership.
- Networking and mentoring: ZaCoMeF seeks to build local partnerships and maintain an interactive dialogue with local, national and international organisations that have similar objectives - in part by offering a platform and meeting place for community media initiatives to interact and share experiences.
- Capacity building: Through its various community journalism and community management training programmes, ZaCoMeF hopes to improve the quality of service delivery among the community media sector so that community-relevant and developmental programmes are produced.
Community Media Development.
ZaCoMeF offers the following overview of community media in Zambia:
- The community radio sector in Zambia is a fast-growing one, with about 29 community radio stations currently registered and licensed with the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting Services (MIBS). The number of new radio initiatives waiting for broadcasting licenses is also increasing.
- The number of community print media, however, is still low, with only about 6 notable ones currently in circulation; a few teaching publications have also been produced.
- In some districts, there have been efforts to start community media centres where community members can read newspapers, magazines, and other publications, as well as surf the internet.
- Other forms of community media, such as drama groups and other related folk media are increasing in numbers, though most of them are attached to interest groups for use in awareness campaigns on various issues, for instance HIV/AIDS.
ZaCoMeF cites sustainability problems, poor quality of content and programming, and lack of training on the part of community media staff and volunteers as being among the major concerns in the community media sector in the country.
Panos Institute Southern Africa, Danish International Development Agency (DANIDA), Free Voice, and Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA).
Email from Elias Mthoniswa Banda to Soul Beat Africa on February 14 2005; and email from Binion Kapoma to The Communication Initiative on June 14 2007.