The tenth global conference of the World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters ended on Saturday 13 November with an open air concert and the award ceremony of the sixth AMARC solidarity price which is awarded every four years for particular achievements by community radios. The price was given to the Haitian community radio networks for their important role in supporting victims and survivors of the disastrous February 2010 earthquake.
The closing ceremony was held in Moron in the outskirts of Buenos Aires where a detention center for political prisoners was located during the military dictatorship, and where today a memorial site reminds visitors of the disappearances, torture and murder by the military regime in the 1970s and 80s. In introducing the award, outgoing AMARC President Steve Buckley highlighted the persistent prosecution of community radio activists, for example after the recent military coup in Honduras. The new AMARC President María Pía Matta called for solidarity and for deepening the social impact of community radio.
The community radio movement has recently enjoyed significant successes in becoming recognized and supported by policy-makers. Representatives from several countries took the opportunity of the ongoing AMARC10 congress in La Plata to report on current developments.
At a panel on Monday 8 November, Gustavo Gomez from Uruguay introduced the new Uruguayan legislation for audiovisual media which has been the result of extensive consultations between the government and civil society groups. The law has been ground-breaking in reserving at least one third of the spectrum for community and non-profit broadcasters, establishing transparent and public mechanisms for frequency allocation, respecting the social characteristics and the independence of community media, and rejecting limitations on transmission power and geographic reach. The new communications act in Argentina includes similar aspects and has been widely cited at the conference as a reference model. At the same panel, representatives from Thailand, Morocco, France and Paraguay told about their successes and challenges in influencing national policy processes to establish, or maintain, supportive regulatory mechanisms. Positive policy change has also happened in South Asia, other parts of Latin America, and most recently in Nigeria, the state with the largest population in Africa.
In a keynote speech to the AMARC10 congress in La Plata, Frank LaRue, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, dicussed a set of key challenges to freedom of expression which apply, particularly, to community media.
Censorship laws in many countries (including the North and West), he said, penalize freedom of expression. In this context he also rejected the criminalization of the unauthorized use of radio frequencies (or, 'pirate radio'). Secondly, physical violence against journalists is persistent around the globe, particularly violence against non-professionals from community radios, blogs and other grassroots media. Thirdly, he said that media concentration and the links between media power and political power (in countries such as Guatemala, Italy and elsewhere) reduces media pluralism. LaRue rejected limits to transmission power for community radio which assign these media a role as 'second-class media' and 'poor people's radio'. Finally, he pointed to increasing surveillance by state and private sectors.
How can community radio contribute to mitigate the effects of natural disasters? As part of the AMARC10 congress, participants came together to share disaster response and preparedness strategies through radio technologies. Community radio practitioners from Haiti, Indonesia, Japan, Chile and the United States reflected on recent experiences in providing help to their communities in the aftermath of earthquakes, tsunamis and hurricanes.
Community radio has shown an amazing persistence through various 'new technology' cycles. It remains the most accessible media technology in large parts of the world, and it has enjoyed a recent rise in both North and South due to new enabling legislation in many countries. Yet it is embedded in a changing technological environment, and the AMARC congress dedicated several sessions to this transformation and what it means for community radio.
In his address to the panel "The future is already here", Gaston Montells from the AMARC New Technologies Program reminded participants that technology is usually developed according to industry needs and with the purpose to keep the "capitalist machine" rolling. He pointed to restrictive rules on, for example, patents and copyrights, and demanded to "un-lock technology from the world of property and ownership".