Saturday, November 26, 2011

Signs of change: community radio under attack

The Partido Patriota promised change. However, I am not sanguine about what kind of changes they have in mind. Right now (mind you, the new government has not taken power yet) things are not looking good for community radio. The Guatemala Congress stands poised to pass a law that would give the commercial monopolies another 25 years of usufruct of the air waves.  I wrote about this a few weeks ago, and the initiative 4044, which was only introduced in late September, has been speeding its way through congress, and is only a few bureaucratic procedures away from becoming law.  The proposal was amended to make it easier for stations to apply for an extension of their existing franchies.

Meanwhile, there have been ads on the commercial radio stations denouncing the illegal radio stations, saying that they are violating the rights of listeners, and suggesting to listeners that they denounce these radio stations to the Ministério Público. There are several different ads that are in regular rotation on the commercial stations  -- and I have to confess that I do listen to commercial radio a lot when I am in the car; many of the community radio stations have fairly limited range; they are, in fact, hyper-local. The station in Sumpango can really only be heard within Sumpango. I don't regularly drive near the ones I know best. So when I drive long distances I have few options other than commercial radio.

One of the ads focuses on the fact that many of these radio stations are in fact religious broadcasters. Another cautions listeners about stations that charge fees for frequencies for which they have no legal right.

While I think many of us in the community radio movement would agree that there are a lot of commercial stations masquerading as community stations, and that their interests do not coincide with ours, and that their existence muddies the waters for us, I have mixed feelings about what seems to be an impending crackdown because I do not trust the Ministerio Público or the Policía Nacional Civil (National Civic Police, a title bestowed upon the police force when it was reorganized after the end of the armed conflict) to distinguish between genuine community radio stations and the religious and commercial stations trying to pass as community radio. I haven't spoken to folks in the community radio movement to find out how they are reacting are to this campaign on the commercial airwaves but will try to do so this week.

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