Central Hungarys Upper-Kiskunság is one of the country’s poorest and most under-developed regions, but community development work over the past 15 years has led to the founding of a number of cooperatives, including a community television station.
The lowland plains south of Budapest, in the former flood zone of the River Danube, are plagued with the problems common to many of Europe’s rural areas, the result of increasing globalization and urbanization, an aging population and lack of investment in infrastructure. Unemployment, poor education levels, depopulation and a lack of community organization, identity, places, services and information were all identified by the Hungarian Association for Community Development, which began a community development process here in 1997.
Cooperatives played a role in this process from the start, with a cooperative of paprika growers founded in 1999, and later a pig-farming cooperative, encouraging small-scale farmers to work together to share costs and marketing. Additionally, community activists were identified and trained, and the Association of Community Workers from the Upper Kiskunság was founded.
The regional union of local authorities raised funds to develop cable TV, broadband internet and a telephone network for the area, and asked the Association of Community Workers to help get young people involved in making television programmes. Four students and three unemployed young people formed a team and attended training courses on community media. They choose to set up a social cooperative, because they saw their work as being in the community and for the community.
Reflex Szociális Szövetkezet, the Reflex Social Cooperative, was founded in 2008 and has been actively broadcasting since 2009, operating 7TV Small Region Television, covering an area of about 500 square miles with a population of 32,000 in 11 towns and villages. The station puts out daily broadcasts of its programmes, which cover major community events, local government meetings and interviews with local people. The cooperative also makes commercials for local businesses. Interaction with the community is key: the website even asks people to bring in their own footage for broadcast in the post-religious timeslot on Sunday.
Our organization ensures information flow for the local people and strengthens the cohesion between the inhabitants of the small region, says Zoltán Halmai, the cooperatives managing president. The cooperative was originally for young people starting their careers, he explained, but now the 10 members are of all different ages and with different experiences. The cooperative relies mainly on volunteers, but it can also support three employees. Both the operation of the cooperative and the TV programme-making are learning processes for the members. Nobody has any formal qualifications, says Halmai.
The cooperative is not only creating job opportunities and providing valuable training to its members, but also actively building a sense of community identity in the Upper-Kiskunság region. Community television gives local residents a chance to get to know each other better, strengthening regional identity and community networking.