For an Agrarian Reform Of the Air Waves
Text and commentaries of the Declaration of Radio Enthusiasts and Televisionaries: an instrument for reflection and action in the struggle to democratize mass communications.
José Ignacio López Vigil
A Great Festival of Latin American and Caribbean Grass roots and Community Television and Radio was celebrated in Quito, Ecuador, on November 20 24, 1995. It was organized by the Group of Eight, a coalition of regional communication networks made up of the Latin American Association of Broadcasting Education (ALER), the World Association of Community Radios (AMARC), the International Center of Advanced Communication Studies for Latin America (CIESPAL), the Latin American Federation of Social Communication Faculties (FELAFACS), the International Federation of Journalists (FIP), the Latin American Association of Group Media (PROA), Radio Netherlands Training Center (RNTC), and the Catholic Association for Radio, TV and similar media (UNDA/AL).
The Group of Eight represents hundreds of radio and television broadcasters, as well as hundreds of production and training centers from all countries in the Latin American and Caribbean region. Without a doubt it represents the most important unifying effort to date in what has been termed citizen, community, grassroots, participatory, educational and public service communication.
The festival was sponsored by CIDA Canada, UNESCO, UNICEF, ADVENIAT, ASDI SWEDEN, the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, MISEREOR, ASOTAB, CRDI, the Quebec government, United Nations Volunteers and other institutions interested in the democratization of communi cations.
At the end of the festival, the Eight and the over 400 delegates present proclaimed the Declaration of Television and Radio Supporters. This declaration is not just one more of the same, and it will not remain hidden away in a drawer, like so many others. It is supported by hundreds of experiences, concrete names and projects, and by its very content. The text of the Declaration disturbs the powerful, especially in these times when there is an effort to reduce the concept of democracy, when the logic of capital is trying to subjugate the logic of community, all in the name of forging market democracies that are neither democratic nor tolerant of an equitable market. If for years, for centuries, we have reclaimed the earth and the means of production, in the current agenda we should include the demand for the distribution of air waves, for hertz equality, for the democracy of radio wave space. It is time to fight for an "air wave agrarian reform."
1. Freedom of expression, each person's inalienable right, affirms social justice and constitutes the greatest guarantee for democracy and peace.
This first point of the Declaration follows the same trend as Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 13 of the American Human Rights Convention (the San José, Costa Rica Pact). These articles proclaim the right of every person to inform and be informed, as well as the liberty to express oneself and give opinions through any media form, whether oral, written, printed, artistic or electronic.
The right to communication or to freedom of expression which in the end is the same thing also heads the May 1994 Santiago Declaration: "Freedom of expression is the cornerstone of our democracies. Democracy is indispensable for peace and development within and among our countries. Freedom of the press is a key and indivisible part of freedom of expression."
Many similar documents relate freedom of expression to democracy, but in very few are both values linked to social justice. Of this is the new element, the critical point of this first article of the Declaration: freedom rests on justice. Of what freedom can an unemployed or hungry person, a sick person without money or an old man without insurance speak? Without social justice there is no true liberty. Without economic democracy there can be no political democracy. Or peace.
2. Civil society can and should exercise freedom of expression through its own forms of communication that give it a voice and public images and allow it to be the subject of its own development.
Not only are demands made for "the grassroots sectors." "Civil society" in general is spoken of, because this is a right for all social sectors: peasants and universities, unions and churches, women's and youth groups, NGOs, and the like. All citizens have the right, fulfilling the technical prerequisites, to be owners of social communication media.
This is the essence of the issue: the access of civil society of those citizens who are not part of the constituted power to ownership of communication media. Commercial radio and TV often talk about grassroots leaders or the common citizen. This participation, however, is not enough, nor does it escape the bias imposed by media directors. We need our own radio and television stations to unconditionally exercise freedom of expression. The difference between being able to talk on a program and being the owner of one is the same as renting or owning a house.
Some radios had as their slogan "the voice of those without a voice." It was paternalistic, because the people are not mute and never have been. This article of the Declaration underlines what has in truth been lacking; the public voice and image. That is the problem, and it is a critical one, because in the world we live in you simply do not exist if you do not appear on television, do not talk on the radio, in short, have no presence in the media, The recognition of social actors, representation of their interests and legitimacy of their actions and ideas is today played out in the mass media.
We should also point out the fruitful relation that is established between communication and development. The two concepts cannot be separated, because making radio and television democratic will contribute to democratizing society. Communication should be at the service of development, of human development that takes into account not only the population's income level, but also holistic improvement of its quality of life.
3. Hundreds of successful community and grassroots radio and television experiences in Latin America and the Caribbean over the last 50 years have legitimized us with our public, winning us the right to legal recognition. These have been and continue to be the expression of the region's marginalized and impoverished majorities.
The first educational radio antenna in Latin America went up in Sutatenza, Colombia, in 1947. Then union radios emerged in Bolivia, won by the miners in 1952. Indigenous radios in Mexico, grassroots radios in Peru and Ecuador, insurrectional radios in Central America and the Caribbean, free radios in Brazil, community radios in Argentina and Chile, formal education radios in Venezuela, participatory radios in Paraguay and Uruguay. Grassroots video productions and neighborhood television also appeared rapidly. Group media combined with mass media. National and regional networks linked up the words of hundreds of communicators throughout the continent. There are not just a few people in these movements, and they did not begin yesterday; they have already accumulated half a century of experience.
All of this effort to democratize communication and put it at the service of the most varied audiences has legitimized these experiences for them and for society. If they tune in to us, if they express themselves through our microphones and cameras, they validate and recognize us. And this public acceptance is the basis for demanding legal recognition. The Declaration's argument deserves to be highlighted: the legitimacy achieved gives the right to legality. First comes life, then law.
We are not neutral. Article 2 demands the right of all of civil society to communication. Article 3 declares our option: the media we work with has been and wants to be at the service of those with greatest need, who in our countries constitute the majority. Not a marginal majority, but a marginalized one; not poor, but impoverished. The reason for this social inequality is the unjust distribution of goods. If many people are lacking them it is because a few have more than enough.
4. In these times of growing globalization and homogenization, community and grassroots radio and television become participatory spaces for the citizenry, where all voices are expressed and the diversity of languages and cultures is defended. The right to be and think differently, to have different goals and tastes, is today an imperative for democracy.
Market globalization is increasingly demanding equalizing consumption preferences among citizens. It is homogenizing tastes through advertising pressure. Just as they are doing with nature, the giant corporations are trying to raze our peoples' cultural biodiversity.
Faced with this uniformizing process, community media constitute a reserve of values, forests of nationalism. The first thing to be protected are languages: Spanish and Quechua are spoken in our microphones, as are Creole and Guaraní, Mixteco and Quiché; all the languages of our earth Abya Yala.
From natural medicine to cooking recipes, from the traditions of our grandparents to the music of our youth which do not classify in the Miami ratings, community media promotes the right to be different, and to think with our own heads. The neoliberal aim is to think and feel identically, to domesticate public opinion through astute information management, to always have the same people saying the same thing. Because we have a pluralistic vocation, our radio and television stations, on the contrary, put all opinions on the air: those that agree and disagree, those of the majority and the minority, including voices that are against the community project that sustains our media.
Perhaps the most original aspect of this article is the link between culture and democracy. A homogenized society, while it will perhaps be more governable, is not more democratic. What is at play here is true participation and protagonism by the citizenry.
5. Defense of human rights, respect for ethnic identity, preservation of the environment, protagonism of youth, protection of the young and the third age, denouncing corruption, as well as regional integration, constitute priorities of our communications tasks.
This proposed agenda is both ambitious and urgent, but not exhaustive. Specific tasks will be emphasized in different contexts, but those appearing in this article are unescapable for any medium that puts itself at the community's service.
The Declaration does not speak of "programming issues," but of "priorities of our communications tasks," which is very different. First, our work does not end at the threshold of the cabin or the set. Social communication takes place from and on the street. Media establish mediations, as Martín Barbero explains. Second, it has to do with focal themes that should run through all the programming. Ecological concern, for example, is not fully covered in an environmental program at a set hour. It should be addressed in all programming, it should appear in an editorial and in the presentation of a disk, in an agricultural piece and in the selection of news by the press team.
6. Women's democratic participation in the media should be guaranteed at all levels. This assumes, especially, presenting a real and valued image of women on radio and television, increasing the production of programs from a gender perspective and promoting their own media.
This specific paragraph on women and the media underscores this sector's importance. Women are more than half the population and one of the main consumers of radio and television programs. Attention: this is not "the women's" article. The male communicator who does not feel involved in this issue reveals typical macho insensitivity.
Women's participation "at all levels" is proposed. Why this specification? Let's look at some data. According to UN statistics, 60% of communications students in Latin America and the Caribbean are women. Despite their training, women do not occupy more than 10%, at most 15%, of high level management positions in any of our countries. In terms of technical work, a woman is rarely seen behind a camera or a console. Where do they tend to work? In administrative or secondary tasks. Or as radio announcers or television presenters or models. The power and the decisions continue to be firmly in male hands.
In terms of programming content, the use and abuse of women is obvious, both in publicity spots and in a good portion of informative, musical and entertainment programs. Women are presented, generally, as silly and gossipy, as sexual objects, as dedicated mothers and queens of the home, dependent on and inferior to men, faithful buyers and unfaithful partners. Other times the discrimination is by omission. The woman does not exist, except in cases of crimes, rapes and scandalous situations. The machismo reflected in many songs, the arguments of so many soap operas, the morbid treatment of news referring to women, the implicit justification of violence against women, should be overcome in our programs if they are to be considered democratic.
To achieve this, specific spaces dealing with women's issues from the gender perspective will help, but are not enough. Just as with the above mentioned agenda, we face a programming axis that should cross all our broadcasting tasks.
Finally and audaciously, the article mentions the need for media that belong to women's organizations.
7. We repudiate the actions of some governments and media owners to frustrate the work of community and grassroots media. The arbitrary closing of radio stations, confiscation of equipment, detention of journalists and communicators, unjustified refusal or delay in the assignment of frequencies, go against freedom of expression and should be condemned.
* On December 14, 1995, the Salvadoran government ordered 11 community radio stations closed; some of them, like Radio Segundo Montes and Radio Sumpul, had been transmitting for several years and had fulfilled the requirements to obtain their licenses. The police operation included searching the premises, confiscating equipment, and beating up announcers.
* On August 26, 1995, the Uruguayan government decreed the arbitrary closing of CX 44 Radio Panamericana. Without waiting for the legal ruling, President Lacalle gave the frequency to one of his friends, Nelson Marroco.
* In May of 1995, unknown perpetrators tore down the antenna belonging to Radio Estrella del Mar, in Quellón, southern Chile.
* One month before, on April 21, ANTELCO closed Paraguay's first community radio station, Ita Ybate, installed in Asunción's Municipal Center #1. APRAP private businessmen called the new radio's transmissions "villianry with unmentionable goals." Shortly afterward, FM Trinidad, installed in another neighborhood of the Paraguayan capital, was put on trial.
* Also in May 1995, Mexican headmen from Veracruz attacked Radio Huayacocotla, accusing it of subverting public order with coded messages. In reality they were programs in indigenous languages that supported the recovery of community lands. The Communications Secretariat silenced this peasant station.
* In that same month, in Colombia's Magdalena department, SIJIN officials confiscated the equipment of La Voz del Gaira and Delfín FM Stereo. The government, despite favorable decrees for community radios, first ordered them closed for not having licenses and then kept them closed by refusing to issue them licenses. Dozens of small stations were closed this way in November 1995.
* On June 22, 1994, Radio Latacunga was assaulted by Ecuadoran army soldiers, who kicked down the doors, took the transmission links and detained the director. The reason? Giving voice and support to an indigenous movement that rejected the agrarian law proposed by landowners. Radio ERPE in Riobamba and Radio Ingapirca in Cañar were also attacked.
* In February 1994, the COMFER closed radio stations from the Norpatagónica Grassroots Radio Association, in the Argentine province of Neuquén. A few months before, an incendiary bomb had destroyed the installations of La Tribu FM, in Buenos Aires.
Why continue? The list is interminable, because aggressions against community and grassroots communications media are not recent. They stem from the 1960s, when the Bolivian military surrounded the installations of Radio Pío XII, in the XX Century mining camp. Or when Chilean cavalry dynamited the antenna of La Voz de la Costa, in Osorno, for the second time. Or when the Guatemalan paramilitary killed La Voz de Atitlán's personnel.
With all reason, the Interamerican Press Association (IAPA) and International Radio Broadcasting Association (AIR) denounce the threats and attacks suffered by journalists from commercial media. We add our protest to theirs. And with equal solidarity, we hope they will join our protest, to denounce so many unjustifiable attacks on freedom of expression in civil society's media.
8. Governments should not only authorize, but also guarantee the existence of community and grassroots media as a third form of property: social property with the same rank as private commercial and state. This guarantees the independence of communication from political or profit motives.
Who and how many own the word and image in Latin America and the Caribbean? The concentration of ownership leaps to the eye. According to CIESPAL's Inventory of Communications Media in Latin America, 85% of radio stations, 67% of television stations and 92% of the written media belonged to private enterprise in 1993. Barely 7% of all radio stations and 10% of all television channels in the region were cultural and educational.
But the radio wave spectrum is the patrimony of humanity administered by states according to International Telecommunications Union (UIT) treaties. It is a public good, a natural resource like rivers or the air. How would we respond if oxygen were privatized or a business tried to monopolize drinking water? What belongs to everyone cannot be in the hands of a few.
For this reason, the majority of our countries' Constitutions recognize the right of all citizens to own means of social communication. However, only two models exist in the Telecommunications Ministries' concrete laws: the private commercial property model and the state model.
We need a differentiated ownership system that includes the figure of social enterprise. These enterprises belong to communities, citizens' groups or nongovernmental organizations, all non profit. In this third model there is no personal appropriation of profits. At the end of the financial exercise, any surplus goes not into the owners' pockets, but is reinvested in the enterprise.
If only commercial or state communications media exist, we are subjected to the logic of economic profitability (which excludes the weakest) or of political profitability (which excludes the opposition).
Guaranteeing independent media with a different logic, that of socio cultural profitability, is the Declaration's icy point. Why is it that neither businesses nor governments want to concede frequencies to civil society organizations? When they request one, they always get the same response: "The dial is already saturated." That's not true. Not even in the big cities is there such saturation, and it's even less true in immense peasant zones or in medium and small cities of our countries, where radio bands are barely used. The best proof of this is that, before elections, frequencies appear as if by magic and are distributed among the governing party.
Many points on the dial are in fact saturated, but at 800 kilohertz between one frequency and another (from 88.1 one goes directly to 88.9, for example). In Chile, as in so many European countries, frequencies are being granted at distances of 400 kilos, because technology now allows it. These are what are known as interstitial frequencies (for example, 88.5). And the FM band can be better used yet.
In Brazil, community radios are asking the state to grant them two interstitial slots, for example, one at 88.5 and another at 106.1. Working with low power, many stations can hook into the same frequency. The danger of this formula is that these stations remain with limited power. It's not ideal, but at least it's a solution that begins to unblock the access.
In Colombia, saturation of the dial is not for technical reasons, but due to a law that assigns frequencies according to population size; for example, one FM station for every 100,000 people. Bucaramanga, with 500,000 residents, has the right to only five FM stations. What do the big commercial businesses do? If one city is already saturated because of the 100,000 person criteria, they put their antennas in peripheral communities and aim them at the cities they target.
The real fact is that there's no lack of frequencies; there's an excess of monopolistic zeal. This zeal reigns among businessmen, who proclaim the free market, but accept no more competition than what they themselves established. And among politicians, who want to hear no other voices than their own so they can govern "without an excess of democracy," as the Trilateral Commission unabashedly declared in 1975.
9. The radio wave spectrum should be shared equitably among all sectors of civil society. A quota of frequencies should be reserved for nonprofit social enterprises in the AM and FM bands and on the television channels, as well as in current negotiations about numerical broadcasting.
The radio spectrum is a limited natural resource: the FM band goes from 88 to 108 Mhz. and the AM band from 500 to 1600 Khz. And television has room for no more than 100 channels. There cannot be a musical chairs solution whoever pushes hardest wins. The principle that assigns the protection of those sectors with fewest resources to the state to achieve equal opportunity among citizens remains valid.
For this reason, the state should reserve a quota of frequencies so that all sectors are represented. How many frequencies? In strict justice, it should not be a percentage that is either higher or lower for nonprofit social enterprises than for commercial ones. To avoid doubts, the Declaration specifies radio and television bands, including the new numerical channels, whose distribution is taking place in the UIT and other international forums without civil society's representation.
Article 9 is one of the most controversial of the Declaration, because it is here that the power of communications media is disputed. Here we are demanding a redistribution of the radio wave electrical field, what the Brazilians are calling "an agrarian reform of the air waves."
In concrete terms, how are frequencies granted in the majority of our countries? The most common route is bidding. Who will pay more? When channels are auctioned off, those with more resources and better teams will always win. A shorter route is to have friends in the Ministry or in Parliament. Whether by the straight and narrow or by shortcut, the grassroots sectors always lose. They do not have the money to compete or even to pay the bribes. The free competition argument does not work when the shark is competing against the sardines.
A curious note: the Ecuadoran state has created the National Broadcasting and Television Commission (CONARTEL), responsible for the concession of all frequencies including the communal ones. In this organization, where requests are analyzed and community frequencies are decided on, there is a representative from the Presidency, the Education Ministry, the Armed Forces, the respective radio and television private enterprise associations...and no community representative!
10. In the concession of frequencies for community and grassroots radio and television, there should be no arbitrary restrictions or discrimination regarding the quantity of stations per locality, the power of the signal, the sale of advertising space, the formation of networks or the use of new technologies, as occurs in some countries.
Permission with a stick. Licensing with limitations. If after many efforts we manage to get the government to approve some specific articles about community broadcasting, these come with such suffocating impediments that it appears to be a condemnation more than a law. Let's review the principles:
* In terms of the number of community broadcasters per locality:
Recent Colombian government decrees catalogue community broadcasters as Class D. This does not offend us; on the contrary, as the delegates to the National Community Radio Meeting said, "The same letter begins words as important as Democracy and Development, fundamental objectives that Colombian community radios advocate." (Bucaramanga, September 1995.) The problem is not the label, but that only one Class D station can be installed per municipality. According to this, Bogotá, with 7 million inhabitants, can only have one community radio, but can have one commercial station for every 100,000 inhabitants. That is, it can have 70 commercial stations a ratio of 70 to 1. The Colombian government does not even contemplate community television in the recent law 182.
* In terms of the power of the signal:
Here we face two traps: very high floors and very low ceilings. In the United States, during Reagan's first term, the Federal Communications Commission prohibited what were termed "micro radios" (transmitters of less than 100 watts). This silenced all citizens who did not have the average $100,000 to install a strong enough station. In Brazil or Peru there are no regulations for stations under 250 watts, which penalizes low potency transmissions.
In Chile, on the contrary, Law 18.168 was modified on October 18, 1993, to include the term "minimum coverage broadcasting" in several articles. Just the name sounds suspicious. What is the maximum strength that the Chilean government authorizes for community radios? One watt! Though it sounds incredible, Chilean civil society, surrounded by commercial radios of 50,000 or 100,000 watts, can only project its voice at one watt.
In Ecuador, 150 watts in FM and 300 watts in AM were authorized. In Colombia, Decree 1695 of August 3, 1994, allowed a bit more up to 500 watts. Legislators repented of this less than a year later and reduced community radio strength to 250 watts, in both AM and FM (Decrees 1445, 1446 and 1447 of August 30, 1995).
What are these limitations based on? It should be stressed that community radio is not equivalent to local radio nor is it measured by the strength of its antenna's signal, but rather by its objectives of serving those sectors least favored by society. But the intent to condemn us to remaining small is clear when, in addition to limiting our transmitting strength, community radio chains, which could provisionally be a way to broaden coverage of certain programs, are prohibited (Decree 1446, article 11.2). Precisely in Colombia, where there is a huge chain of commercial stations belonging to a drug cartel, community chains are prohibited, supposedly to prevent illicit ends!
* In terms of advertising sales:
In Ecuador, rule 3398, article 5, from January 17, 1996, states that "communal radios" cannot broadcast commercial advertising of any kind. Something similar exists in Chilean law (article 13A.a). For the moment, only Colombia has legislation authorizing the sale of advertising space (cited Decrees, articles 27 and 30).
What argument justifies this discrimination according to parliament, businesses and AIR directors? They say that our enterprises are "nonprofit." But the concept of "profit" is not equivalent to the "private appropriation of goods." A social enterprise can and should have "achievements," generate income, be profitable. The difference is that the surplus does not go into private pockets, but is totally reinvested to improve the communication media itself. As one piece of graffiti put it: Being non profit does not mean being pro loss.
By prohibiting advertising sales, community media are virtually forced to depend on donations, whether national or foreign. This compromises their stability and development as self financed enterprises. Someone commented in a recent round table: "What if we were to demand a subsidy from the very government that prohibits us from generating our own resources?"
Why do these restrictions exist? Could it be that commercial media fear the very liberty they proclaim? Their clients are at risk here the possibility that some advertisers might prefer to put their announcements on community radio rather than commercial radio. What happened to the sacred free market laws that are the same for every citizen, regardless of motivations?
Some colleagues think that demanding the right to advertising would commercialize us. What commercializes a communications medium is losing sight of the social objectives on which it was founded, not advertising per se. We need money to live, although we do not live for money. We don't need so much that the saint gets burned, but not so little that he is not illuminated.
11. It is becoming ever more urgent that the current telecommunications legislation throughout Latin America and the Caribbean be reviewed and modernized. Very few laws contemplate the creation of new community communications media or strengthening those that already exist, as was recognized in the Action Plan approved in a seminar on Development of the Communications Media and Democracy in Latin America and the Caribbean, held under the auspices of UNESCO, the United Nations and the UNDP (Santiago, Chile, May 1994).
If we were to take an inventory of the telecommunications laws and regulations still valid in our countries, we would find a few surprises. For example, the Paraguayan law dates from 1944 and is a vulgar copy of Mussolini. El Salvador's law is also over 50 years old, dating from the dictator Martínez. Argentina's law 22.285 was approved under Videla. In Uruguay's law, also approved during a military dictatorship, the adjudication and withdrawal of licenses depend on the Ministry of Defense. It is a whole museum. On our side, what legislation exists on community media?
*In Chile, modifications to Law 18.168 of October 18, 1993, which refer to "minimum coverage radios," limit their strength to 1 watt and prohibit advertising sales.
*In Colombia, Decrees 1445, 1446 and 1447 of August 30, 1995, which restrict what had been achieved in the previous Decree 1695 of August 3, 1994, reduce the authorized potential from 500 to 250 watts, prohibit chains and only authorize one community station per municipality.
*In Paraguay, Articles 57, 58 and 59 of the Telecommunications Law speak of "small and medium coverage radios or community radios," but refer to regulations that do not yet exist.
*In Ecuador, Article 17 of the Broadcasting and Television Reform Law of April 20, 1995, and Regulation 3398 of January 17, 1996, recognize "communal radios," but put them in the category of "public stations," prohibiting commercial advertising and limiting their strength to 300 watts in AM and 150 watts in FM.
*In Bolivia, article 41 of Law 1632 from July 5, 1995, excludes the application of said law to telecommunications linked to national defense and security, as well as to those "of social character linked to education and health."
*In Argentina, after ten long years and 30 bills in Parliament, a new broadcasting law finally appears about to be approved. It would reserve 20% of frequencies for community communication.
And that's it. We're still far from countries like Canada, France, Holland, Australia, Norway and many others whose laws recognize the value of community media in strengthening democracy and peace.
Faced with this panorama, the proposals adopted by participants in the seminar on Development of Communications Media and Democracy in Latin America and the Caribbean, referred to in Article 11 of the Declaration, become even more important. It should be noted that the Action Plan that emerged from the seminar, which supports the promotion and strengthening of the region's community communication media, was unanimously approved in an Assembly which included the participation of high level AIR and IAPA officials and other business and journalist associations, as well as top Chilean government authorities.
12. State communications media, whether commercial or social, should fulfill the spirit of public service and journalism's social responsibility, respecting labor rights of journalists and other communications workers, governing their programming with a code of ethics and promoting values among the population.
Communications media suffer from a double standard. For example, public and community stations are reminded in the Ecuadoran regulation that they should transmit "a cultural and educational program that addresses issues of general interest, such as pedagogic, agricultural, industrial, economic, social development, community service, and home orientation conferences; that is, such programs should promote socioeconomic and cultural development, healthy openness and the essential values of nationality, within an environment of civil solidarity and integration" (Article 5.a). But when this same regulation refers to commercial stations, absolutely nothing is said, as if the above mentioned were the exclusive task of the "other" radios. It would appear that the one has the duty to serve the collective good and the others have the right to profit from them. The World Radio and Television Council (CMRTV) reminds us with good reason that public service service to the public concerns all communications media, whatever their model of ownership.
Obviously, our populations need to find entertainment, escape, a way to "disconnect" from the crisis that the majority live, through radio and television. But they also seek other spaces that respond to cultural, civic, family orientation, social and national identity needs. In reality, there should be no contradiction between the two expectations. The media should be as much receptive to values from other countries as promoters of our own. Being educational does not mean being unenjoyable.
It could be this way, but it is not. Given the market laws, obsessed by ratings that determine advertising income, directors and producers are pulled towards ever more simplistic formulas that assure public attention. Morbidity and violence get excellent ratings. Trivialization of the products. And even worse, abandonment of production. Because it's now cheaper to retransmit someone else's reporting by satellite than to do one's own. Statistics show this: 96% of the news we receive in Latin America is produced by only five agencies of the First World.
Music faces a similar fate. The US hit parade determines what the stations should play. Our dials are saturated, but by music in English with Americanized announcers. Movie theaters are awash with Hollywood productions. Video rentals, cable, are all the same merchandise.
The telecommunications ministries, instead of terrorizing the community media, could better use their energies designing and implementing national and nationalist communication policies. Two isolated positions against pornographic movies or excessive blood in children's programs is not enough.
Designing communications policies does not go against freedom of expression. On the contrary, it is the only way freedom be guaranteed. If there are no laws, there is only the law of the jungle.
This last article of the Declaration universalizes media's public responsibility, as well as journalists' responsibility, which can be translated as honesty with information, integrity against any bribe, wherever it comes from, and courage to denounce injustice. The owners, whoever they are, must respect the labor rights of all communications workers.
In summary; there are not two ethical codes, one narrow for community media and another broad for commercial media. There is only one; that which seeks to humanize social relations, develop the country, build citizens. We enthusiastically welcome the unity achieved in the Group of Eight. This alliance will consolidate and broaden, especially convoking all regional popular community networks, and promoting South South cooperation. We invite governments, international cooperation agencies, nongovernmental organizations, journalists' unions, commercial and state communication media, and all radio and television supporters to join this international movement that is seeking to democratize communications to contribute to the democratization of our societies.
The work horizon is ambitious. The challenges put forward by this Declaration are tenacious. It is an attempt to row against the tide of the monopolies. To engage together the battle for a radio wave spectrum distributed equitably, assuring civil society a public voice and image. All the articles of the Declaration are hard, courageous, hot. They put a valuable tool in the hands of all radio and television supporters who met in Quito to celebrate utopias.
When and How Did the Group of Eight Form?
On October 6, 1994, 22 broadcasting educators from almost all Latin American countries and from different communications institutions met in CIESPAL. They planned to spend ten days together and, given varied opinions among the participants, intense debate was expected. But it was not so. The days passed and the methodological confrontations, the great ideological discrepancies, did not occur.
Instead of distancing, there was a coming together. Common sense gained ground over any conflicts. Humor dissolved distrust. And on the eve of the closure of the seminar workshop, with so many accumulated agreements, the question that was on everybody's minds came up: how about if we continue this, if we coordinate to continue working together? They developed an inter institutional cooperation agreement. And they toasted the newly born unity.
Two months later, on December 8, the leaders of the institutions that had participated in that seminar workshop ALER, AMARC, CIESPAL, FELAFACS, FIP, PROA, RNTC and UNDA/AL formally signed the agreement and became the Group of Eight. At their first meeting they decided to do something big. That something was the Great Festival of Radio and Television Supporters which took place in Quito last November.
The Group is not closed. It wants to be of Nine, of Ten, of all progressive communication networks working in Latin America and the Caribbean. It seeks a broad, pluralist movement, where each institution will support a common objective: democratization of communication. The Group of Eight has neither rearguard nor vanguard. No one leads the way, no network feels superior to another. Strengthening this historic coalition will benefit all, especially the least favored social sectors.