By Evan Light
The World Association of Community Broadcasters (AMARC) held its 9th conference and general meeting in Amman, Jordan from 11-17 November. Founded in Montréal in 1983, AMARC is the world body of community radio stations and affiliated groups and counts a membership of over 3500 associates from all six habitable continents. Every four years, its general assembly and world conference are held in a region of the world in which media freedom is on the cusp of becoming a reality. In this case, the government of Jordan recently loosened their restrictions on the freedom of expression and are one of few countries in the Middle East to allow for licensed community broadcasting. AmmanNet, the local host of the conference, received their FM license in July 2005 after four years of Internet broadcasting. Currently, there are three community stations in the country operating alongside five commercial and five State radios.
The AMARC 9 conference brought together over 350 individuals from 94 countries, including representatives of community radio stations and associations, communication researchers and civil society. Delegations were present from many countries in the region including Egypt, Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, Algeria, Tunisia and Jordan with the notable absence of Israel. Daily workshops focused on diverse topics related to community radio such as urban and rural poverty reduction, gender equality and women's rights, human rights, media freedom in the Middle East, peace-building and conflict resolution, media law and regulation.
Leading up to this conference, AMARC conducted an extensive study on the state of community radio in each region in which it maintains a notable presence : Africa, Asia-Pacific, Europe, Latin America and Caribbean and North America. As an international and decentralized grouping of community broadcasting and free speech advocates, AMARC is variably identified as a network of individuals and institutions, a movement that advocates the free and public use of broadcast media and an ONG. In the debate over the future of the organization, several historic moments highlighted its importance and potential. Halfway through the conference, news was received that India had passed legislation on community radio, recognizing the media in its own right rather than coupling it with the standards of commercial broadcasters. In the meantime, other governments of the world reacted to the “dangerous” potential of independent media. The Democratic Republic of the Congo shutdown six large community radio stations on the day before the final rendering of their national election. Three days into the conference, the government of Chad declared a state of emergency in the capital and the entire eastern half of the country, imposing a State censor and forbidding the community radio stations from reporting on the events. In more uplifting developments, representatives from throughout the Americas began dialogue concerning satellite radio, policy reform and national funding mechanisms, community broadcasting is slated to be legalized in Uruguay in the coming months and new legislation will be introduced in Haiti in January 2007.
After the conference, two separate groups of North American participants set out to aid with the construction of new community radio stations in Jordan. One group worked with a highly organized community organization in the Jordan River Valley. The other was made up of members of a delegation organized by the Prometheus Radio Project and spent one week at the Reesheh Knowledge Station, helping to construct the first Bedouin community radio. The community was left with a fully-functioning radio station, built with their own hands from transmitter to antenna. With a foot in the door of bureaucracy, they are awaiting their broadcast license and will hopefully grow to be an example to other communities in the region.