“Radical media” is a term used by communication scholars to refer to information and communication technologies used by radical media activists to bring about social change. In this sense, the word “radical” means the expression of ideas, opinions, and options to reorganize society that are not sanctioned by the established social order. British communication scholar John Downing coined the term in his volume Radical media, where he critiques the term “alternative media” as oxymoronic because “[e]verything, at some point, is alternative to something else” (1984, ix). For Downing, the designation radical media needs to be based on a careful historical examination of the medium’s context, content, and consequences. Under certain cultural and political conditions, content that in other contexts would be deemed apolitical and inoffensive can yield tremendous social change when transmitted by radical media; thus, context determines the “radicalness” of the content in each case. Also, the medium’s organization does not necessarily mean that the content is radical; each case has to be examined in order to establish if and to what extent the medium’s content is in fact radical, depending on its potential to strengthen resistance politics and bring about social change.
Radical media serve both progressive and authoritarian social movements. In the first case, radical media are used by radical media activists including environmentalists, women, ethnic minorities, and human rights groups among others. In the latter case, radical media express the views of fundamentalist, racist, or fascist movements that revolve around “radically negative forces” (Downing 2001, ix), such as white supremacy, and religious fundamentalist organizations.
The goal of radical media is twofold. First, radical media express someone’s intent to critique, resist, and transform the establishment. Second, radical media are used by activists to build solidarity and support around their agendas. In this sense, radical media develop a series of vertical and lateral communication and information actions and messages.
Radical media come in “a colossal variety of formats” (Downing 2001, x) that range through print media, radio, television, video, film, puppets, woodcuts, dance, posters, cartoons, graffiti, murals, theatre, performance art, and culture jamming.
With several co-authors, Downing has studied the role(s) of radical media in different geographical, cultural, and political contexts that include radical radio and print media and the fall of the dictatorship in Portugal in the 1970s; the free radio movement in Italy from 1970 to 2000; the case of access television in the United States during the 1980s and 1990s; the case of samizdat in the former Soviet bloc; and the case of Free Radio Berkeley in the United States.
- Atton, C. (2002). Alternative media. London: Sage.
- Downing, J. (1984). Radical media: The political organization of alternative communication. Boston, MA: South End Press.
- Downing, J. (2001). Radical media: Rebellious communication and social movements. London: Sage.
- Rodríguez, C. (2001). Fissures in the medias cape: An international study of citizens’ media. Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press.