Latin America’s community radio – a key service but vulnerable

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is marking World Radio Day today by spotlighting both the importance and the fragility of Latin America’s community radio stations, which play a key social and democratic role but are still very vulnerable.

Violence and fear are an integral part of the lives of many Latin American radio programme hosts, who are sometimes even at risk within their studios. Local radio stations are particularly exposed, especially those that are far from major urban centres.

Radio stations are often hounded by government officials, politicians and organized crime. Of the 17 journalists murdered in Latin America in 2016, no fewer than ten worked for radio stations. Hernán Choquepata Ordoñez, a Peruvian journalist working for Radio La Ribereña, and João Valdecir de Borba, a Brazilian journalist with Rádio Difusora AM, were both shot dead in mid-broadcast last year.

Two programme hosts working for the same Mexican radio station, Tu Un Ñuu Savi, were killed within the space of three months. Marco Bonifacio Sánchez, a Peruvian journalist with Turbo Mix Radio y Televisión, was attacked ten days ago by masked men who tried to cut his tongue out.

On World Radio Day, we hail the courageous work of radio stations from Mexico to Patagonia, which play a key role in promoting freedom of expression and opinion and actively participate in the democratic lives of their countries in often deplorable security conditions,” said Emmanuel Colombié, the head of RSF’s Latin America desk.

As a matter of urgency, Latin America’s government must reinforce protection for these radio stations and their journalists and guarantee their ability to operate and to be viable.”

In countries such as Ecuador, Bolivia, Colombia and Honduras, minorities and other sectors of the population that are disadvantaged and marginalized have been using community radio stations for decades as a tool for promoting education, fundamental rights and identity-based demands.

Many indigenous communities still use their radio stations to defend their lands and denounce discrimination by their big-city neighbours. This is the case with La Voz de Zacate Grande in Honduras and Voces de Nuestra Tierra and Nasa Estéreo in Colombia. Radio is often the only link with the outside world for communities in some remote Amazonian regions.

Although community radio stations play a vital social role, their work is complicated by the fact that they receive no support from most Latin American governments, which make little effort to promote pluralism.

Legislation in Guatemala and Brazil, for example, makes it very difficult for community radio stations to obtain or renew broadcast frequencies and obstructs their development.

They are therefore forced to operate illegally, leaving them even more vulnerable to violence and persecution by the authorities, who do not hesitate to carry out raids, confiscate their equipment and prosecute them.

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Updated on 10.02.2017