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Central American University - UCA  
  Number 207 | Octubre 1998
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Latin America

The Rights and Duties of Community Radio

On the 50th anniversary of the universal declaration of human rights, and also 50 years after the first educational radio station in Latin America went on the air in Colombia, the radio broadcasters of Latin America and the Caribbean who belong to the World Association of Community Radio(AMARC) are studying and discussing the 26 points of its draft "Charter of Community and Civic Radio," which we present below.

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1. Communication is a universal and fundamental human right. The word brings us closer together, opens us up to each other, develops us, makes us better men and women. Communication humanizes us.

2. The public word is an inseparable part of freedom of expression. This freedom implies the right to receive and transmit information and opinions, without borders or censorship, through any means of communication. The only limit to this right is the right of others, respecting their dignity and privacy.

3. Radio broadcasting is one way of exercising freedom of expression, through a given technological medium: electromagnetic waves. To exercise this right independently, civil society should have its own stations to provide it with a public voice and allow it to be the subject of its own development.

4. The electromagnetic spectrum belongs to the international community and is recognized as the common patrimony of humanity. States are responsible for administering this resource, which is limited, in a manner that most fully and equitably favors the freedom of expression exercised via the airwaves.

5. Radio frequencies cannot be sold or auctioned, since they belong to society and the primary purpose of the communications media is to provide a service to the public over and above any other lucrative or proselytizing pursuits. As a result, the state, as a good administrator of the airwaves, shall guarantee freedom of antenna, or, in other words, equal opportunities for all social sectors to gain access to the electromagnetic spectrum, with transparency in the assignment of frequencies and reasonable technical requirements for operating the broadcasting equipment.

6. Monopolies and the tendency to concentrate radio frequencies in few hands go against freedom of expression, impoverish the indispensable pluralism of information, and should be prevented through national communication policies. States shall reserve a quota of frequencies for non-profit civic organizations on the AM and FM bands and on the open television channels as well as the new numerical ones.

7. Community and civic radio cannot be regulated with unconstitutional measures such as the arbitrary establishment of minimum signal strength, prohibition of the sale of publicity or of the creation of chain hook-ups, or limitations for no technical reason on the number of frequencies assigned to each locality or region. The social service media seek no privileges from the commercial or state media. But nor will they accept any discrimination in relation to them.

8. The actions of some governments aimed at obstructing the work of community media, such as threats and attacks, confiscation of equipment, advertising blockades, detention of communications workers and the refusal to assign frequencies or unjustified delays in doing so are attacks on freedom of expression and should be denounced.

9. Thousands of community radios the length and breadth of our planet in Europe and Australia, in Africa, Asia and the Americas have been developing successfully for decades, and have legitimized themselves with their audiences, thus gaining the right to legal recognition. These experiences have been and continue to be an expression of the most just aspirations of civil society, especially of the impoverished majorities and marginalized minorities of the world who have been so discriminated against.

10. Some of these stations still do not have their licenses. They should not be considered clandestine nor should they be silenced because of that. On the contrary, the obsolete and discriminatory laws of some countries should be expanded and modernized. Community radio stations with broadcasting licenses or which are currently applying to obtain them are expressing their commitment to democratic legality and the culture of peace.

11. Community radio, civic radio, associative radio, popular radio, educational, free, participatory, rural, interactive, alternative radio its name has changed over the decades and differs from place to place, thus reflecting the diversity and richness of the movement. But the challenge has been the same for all: democratize the word to democratize society.

12. A community radio station is defined by the community of interests it represents. These interests can be those of neighborhoods, of peasants, of union or business members, of ethnic groups, of gender or generation, of a university community or a group of ecologists, of artists or sports enthusiasts, of boys and girls, of progressive churches, of grassroots organizations or of social movements unhappy with the current distribution of the word and wealth and in search of a more balanced and happier world.

13. Community radio stations can be big or small, with short- or long-range transmitters, broadcasting on any band of the spectrum. The term community does not refer to a small place but to shared interests. Community radio stations can be those working with small-scale, low-tech equipment or those that have achieved a higher level of technological development. They can be those that work with amateur personnel or those that have attained a solid professional level. What makes them community radio is not any juxtaposition with quality production or with profitability. Community radios can be cooperatively owned or belong to a non-profit civic organization, or they can have any other ownership system that guarantees independent journalism and an authentic commitment to the citizenry's interests.

14. These stations are defined by their socio-cultural objectives. Community communications workers understand their work as a vocation of service to society, equidistant from those who use stations as a primarily money-making enterprise and those who see them as an apparatus for political or religious propaganda. But this service to society is highly political and mobilizing: it tries to influence public opinion, to create consensus around worthy causes, to help improve the quality of people's lives, to foster the exercise of rights and fulfillment of duties. Above all—and for this reason the name community and civic radio—it tries to build community, to create a sense of civilization.

15. In these times of growing globalization and homogenization, community radio stations become spaces for civic participation in which all voices can express themselves and the diversity of languages and cultures is defended. The right to be different and think differently, to have distinct likes and aspirations, is today becoming an imperative of democracy. Naturally, the right to be different implies the duty to be tolerant.

16. The priorities of community and civic radio's communication mission are the defense of Human Rights and the promotion of sustainable human development, gender equity, respect for ethnic identities, environmental preservation, the protagonism of youth, protection of children and people in the third age, education and health, as well as national and regional integration.

17. Women's participation should be guaranteed at all levels of community and civic radio. In particular, this implies projecting a real and valued image of women and incorporating a gender perspective throughout the programming. At the same time it means assuring women's equitable presence in management positions.

18. Community and civic radio is democratic. It contributes to the free expression of the different social organizations and movements, as well as to the promotion of any initiative that seeks development, peace and friendship among peoples and the sovereignty of nations. No discrimination exists in these stations based on race, gender, social class, sexual preference, or political or religious opinions. Spaces are made in their programming for the free debate of ideas in a pluralistic atmosphere without any kind of censorship, either direct or indirect. Everyone may speak and everything said is respected, even the words of those who do not share their editorial line and who actively oppose their positions.

19. Community and civic radio is independent. It does not accept pressures from political, military or religious authorities. It does not allow itself to be bought off by either public or economic powers. It does not remain silent in the face of injustice and denounces corruption wherever it surfaces. These stations have no other journalistic criterion than truth, and no other commitment than to justice and the interests of those in most need.

20. Community and civic radio is informative. It cultivates a streamlined, fast-acting journalism in pursuit of supremacy. Its news reports are substantiated, balanced by diverse sources, and offer no place to for rumors or morbid sensationalism. It is the first to report and the most serious in analyzing what has been reported. These radio stations work in investigative journalism, which implies high risks but increases the credibility of the medium. They always offer the right to reply. They maintain an ethically coherent informational policy and assume their social responsibility.

21. Community and civic radio is educational. The first level of education consists of accompanying the audience, making the work day more bearable, offering useful programs that help resolve the thousand and one problems of daily life. Those spaces in which listeners give their opinion and debate current events are also educational, as are the spaces for scientific dissemination, the promotion of health and the exercise of the citizenry's rights and duties. Audience participation is constant, live and employs all channels available to it: telephones, the sound booth itself and mobile units. These are street stations: they are where the people are.

22. Community and civic radio is entertaining. It recovers the magic of radio's language, employing all the varied and sensual resources open to the medium. Its announcers are lively, enthusiastic, and they know how to juggle content with form, how to seduce the audience. They use everyday language, without any affectations. The music they put on has broad acceptance, with no elitism, combining national with foreign, and local artists with famous ones, without getting dragged into the commercial line imposed by the recording companies. It is fresh, colorful radio, rooted in people's lives, with programming that responds to mass tastes and makes good humor its first proposition.
23. Community and civic radio is profitable. It is not profit-motivated in the sense that it does not privatize its earnings. But it does produce income, which is reinvested in the enterprise itself to increase its competitiveness. These radio stations accept advertising that passes their required ethical screening. They explore a thousand ways to finance themselves, without forgetting international cooperation or the due contributions of the state, which uses them to promote public service campaigns. More than simple radio stations, they are conceived of as cultural centers, which obtain income through artistic, theatrical and sports activities, educational workshops, a music store, a coffee shop or the sale of other services. The rights of workers and their social security are respected within the radio team. Management is democratic, in line with the equally democratic principles of the radio project.

24. Community and civic radio is modern. Breaking through any marginalization or self-marginalization, these stations seek to upgrade their technological infrastructure and provide ongoing training to their personnel to achieve greater effectiveness and better positioning. They aspire to first place in the ratings according to their particular programming profile, but without sacrificing the social objectives that are the project's reason for being.

25. Community and civic radio is interactive; it has a responsibility to its audiences. It submits its programming to public evaluation and modifies it in line with any good suggestions it receives. It installs a media consumer defense service. It carries out ongoing research on listener expectations, and on whether or not the image it is projecting is appropriate. Its financing is transparent and its accounting books open to anyone who wants to consult them. These stations, as social enterprises, allow themselves to be monitored by the society they serve and represent. In this participatory process, the audience increasingly appropriates the medium and feels that it belongs to them.

26. Community and civic radio has solidarity. The stations hook up to each other, provide mutual support, and exchange programs, plans and dreams. Because all of them share the same democratizing mission, they establish a complicity that reaches beyond their cultural and regional differences. By networking, joining forces and efforts, they confront together the excluding and boring neoliberal project on a day- to-day basis, and help open a path of hope for our peoples.

The World Association of Community Radio (AMARC) congratulates the designers of these stations, which are unquestionably the boldest and most creative in history, and the most committed to the grassroots struggles, as well as simply being the best. AMARC is at the service of this international movement. To all those who have put their best efforts into defending the right to communication, all those indispensable nuts, those witches of the microphone, those radio freaks, men and women, who believe and will continue believing in the utopia of a world in which all can eat their bread and speak their word, AMARC issues a call to participate in it.

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