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Dossier Free media : issues, challenges and proposals / Médias libres : enjeux, défis et propositions

Violence and criminalization against community media, their impact on freedom of expression and the constant political challenges of the sector

, by AMARC

In this article we present an analysis about the current situation of community media in Brazil, looking at the process of violence and criminalization against them. First of all, it is necessary to say: there is no structural crisis over community radios. The pressure suffered by community radio broadcasters end up leading them to creating “escape lines”, seeking new types of action, and contributing to redesigns in their operating models, so that they remain socially and politically relevant in the communities where they are present.

The structural changes in the movement have been developed out of their daily praxis; that is, in the context where their ways of operating clashes with the reality and requires appropriate strategies to deal with new social, political, economic and technological challenges to avoid potential historical annihilation. Community radio is in no way extinct; it is an active, alive part of communities, and is presented in many different ways, such that sometimes appears not to be a community radio at all. We must trust that these transformations are an appropriate response to such a rapidly changing reality.

These changes continually occur within a framework of various forms of constraints, violence and criminalization in Brazil, as well as in the rest of Latin America, in the Caribbean and other regions in the world.

One type of violence is the legal organizational model to which community radios are subject: their reach (the requirement of being low-power radios), their content (requirement of proven educational content broadcasted), their management and governance model (community radios have to be submitted to a community council), as well as limitations regarding the number of existing radios in a certain area, are the main constraints imposed to community radios in Brazil.

In the licensing process, certain community radio models prevail over others, as negotiations with other sectors of society take place, either due to the political strength of its proponents or because they would fit better in a new legal arrangement; current legal frameworks might avoid emerging models from being established. There are rare cases of complex and comprehensive legislations such as those in Canada, which allow at least four types (and subtypes) of licenses, access to all bands, possibility of temporary licenses, different forms of funding, including access to public funds.

In most countries, the governance and legal models have to be accepted by and justified for the society as a whole. This leads to serious constraints on the autonomy of community radios: communication rights will only be granted as long as it has a so-called socially-acceptable purpose.

The mechanism that dictates how communication rights should be enforced with regards to community broadcasting is based on a utilitarian and moralistic approach, which is fueled by an elitist and discriminatory view of the people who implement it. Taken for second-class citizens due to their social status, those who claim a share of the disputed electromagnetic space are only granted thatwhen they can prove it is for a justifiable and unsuspicious purpose.

It becomes even more evident (as reflected in laws, methods and actions) at State level. In Brazil, the first-known sentence favorable to community broadcasting occurred in 1994, when Judge Casem Mazloum made a significant ruling in the case of Radio Reversão. Even though it makes reference to the communications monopoly and the authoritarianism of the legal framework, the ruling mentioned the "low power" of a community broadcaster, created for "cultural activities”, and also states the “context of such purposes". This arguments can also be found in recent jurisprudence.

In the persecutory scope, criminalization of community broadcasting goes hand in hand with the criminalization of poverty, as it becomes clear in the regulatory agency (Anatel) reports about their “very risky” surveillance actions, illustrated with photos of riverside communities and favelas to delineate the connections between clandestineness, community radio and poverty.

A summary of the presentation made by the World Community Radio Association (AMARC) Vice-President Damián Loreti in the IACHR’s 162nd session (May 2017) highlights some of the constraints for and attacks against community broadcasting in the Latin American and Caribbean region:

  • Criminalization and persecution of Community Broadcasting.
  • Persecution and murder of journalists and human rights defenders.
  • The process of conversion of analogical into digital radio and TV without the participation of community media, and without public hearings including the population and organizations, disregarding the possibility of diversity and plurality in audiovisual media.
  • Discriminatory and criminalizing laws for community, peasant and indigenous populations media, mainly driven by commercial activity which don’t promote the inclusion of diverse sectors or a diverse and plural media system in the region.
  • Use of the state official advertising guide in a discretionary manner without the participation of community media, peasants or indigenous peoples.
  • Broadcasting regulatory frameworks do not include human rights perspective nor do they incorporate standards of good practice on freedom of expression.

In Brazil, one of the most frequent complaints voiced by community radio broadcasters was the large amount of time taken for a license to be granted. As we see in Graph 1, 88% of community radios s that took part in a survey had to wait for more than three years to obtain legal authorization to operate. In 24% of cases, this period exceeded ten years (a community radio in Bahia has been waiting for 18 years for a license).

Graphic 1 – Time to obtain a license

Less than a year
Between 1 and 2 years and 11 months
Between 3 and 4 years and 11 months
Between 5 and 6 years and 11 monts
Between 7 and 9 years and 11 months
10 years or more

In 2014, there were about two thousand Anatel’s inspections to verify the use of the spectrum, 55,5% of these inspections were started by denounces1. The two main reasons to the Anatel´s inspections actions are technical inadequacy (51,2%) and improper use of advertising (28,5%), and there is a minimum percentual of these actions are to monitor the program content (4%), which demonstrates the absence of the Agency’s positive agenda and also raises a problem that the Anatel´s inspections are being directed by the broadcast interests.

The research shows the constant complaints of the illegal procedure of the community radio shutdowns, differing from the legal standards. The majority of the community radio broadcasters (60%) has been a shutdown without a search and apprehension warrant.

Graphic – Non license stations shutdowns each year (2002-2015)

Source: Author´s analysis of Anatel´s reports (2002-2015)

The current president of AMARC, Emmannuel Boutterin, at the 11th Assembly, held in Ghana in August 2015, comments on the two global main and contradictory shifts regarding to community radio: a wave of legislation improvements and support and the telecom companies dispute of the limited electromagnetic spectrum.

The opponents of community radio outlets are no longer (only) the national oligarchies, in unlikely alliances with world corporations: now there are the corporations themselves that play a key role in the dispute. In the Brazilian example, it does not seem to be a coincidence that the General Telecommunications Law (LGT) (1997) came before the community broadcasting legislation (1998) and also, even before, a (far way) new general communication law in Brazil. The approval of the LGT and the consequent creation of Anatel resulted in the restructure of the Union’s regulatory and repressive power.

In Argentina, the strategy of the new President, Mauricio Macri, was to overturn the Media Law by adopting changes regarding to social media control. In the case of Uruguay, most of the lawsuits against the new Uruguayan media law (SCA) were filed by the local branch of the Spanish telephone company Telefónica. These different countries scenarios show that the Governments are preparing a legal infrastructure safe environment for Telecom companies.

Legal improvements in community broadcasting – which only happens after civil society pressure – usually fail to take into account the social challenges and technological changes in progress.

In the history of community radio’s struggle for autonomy, technological progress enabled broadcasters to expand their actions in a promising way. Through the hybridization of the media, the appropriation of multiple platforms and new forms of linkage, they act in an apparently contradictory movement: they become online at the same time as they are (re)territorialized; they can make use of sophisticated communication tools or choose technological "poverty"; they claim the state grants to provide the Internet and fight for autonomy by using part of the electromagnetic spectrum. As noted previously, if we trust in the paradoxes, perhaps we can understand the new social challenges that are unfolding.

A highlight case is the creation of Tunisian community broadcasting: satellites, webradio, TV, FTP servers, parabolic… a variety of technological adaptations and subversions has converted, for example, TV into a radio receiver and the Internet into a broadcast radio station. But before this development, long before the first signal was broadcast from Tunis-Rome-Milan-Tunis, there were the encounter of the activists for the right to communication who, from the common desire to break the censorship of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, joined forces in an international and multiplatformic conjunction, to blow freedom of communication in the region.

From this point, international organizations such as AMARC and IFEX have focused on establishing communication laws in Tunisia and other Arabian countries. It should be emphasized that technological paraphernalia was not a platform, but an intermediary step: which means that the "network" was a component of the political action or, in other words, the (technological) network was only one aspect of network politics which led to international politics orchestration. It emphasizes the power of community radio change when they act, not just only when they inform.

We already know what the political actors nowadays reject: hierarchy, sovereignty, representation, injustice. We already know how they act: by collaborating and cooperating in an affective and punctual way and in networks. We also know where its production comes from and where it goes: the greatest challenge and also the matter of political dispute is how to find out and build the commons, once that is the commons that allows the political actors to communicate their singularities. The engines that appropriate the commons are merely negative power: they restraint it and usurp it. In conclusion, there is a lot we do not know, but it can only be revealed through the political action.

Edition of Sofia Hammoe on research "Community Radios on the Limit: crisis in politics and dispute for the common in the era of media convergence". João Paulo Malerba, August 2016. Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ), Center for Philosophy and Human Sciences (CFCH), School of Communication (ECO). Available at

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