Communication rights for Indigenous people are here to stay

December 26, 2012

TORONTO

While the situation in Guatemala represents a clear setback for communication rights in the region, two other more positive events took place in Latin America to mark 2012 as the year of Indigenous communication.

The community radio movement in Guatemala has been promoting reforms to the existing telecommunications law that would create a space for community radio within the radio frequency spectrum. This would allow Indigenous Peoples access to and control of their own forms of media in the country.

In a closed-door session on Nov. 20, Guatemala’s Congress approved a controversial bill revising the Telecommunications Law. Reforms extending the current radio frequency licenses for another 20 years, along with television, telephone, and internet frequencies, were made following limited debate. The legislation effectively bars broadcast access to Indigenous Peoples.

The move led to a strong reaction by the country’s UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Alberto Brunori, who said, “It seems like a lost opportunity to open a channel of communication to the community radio stations, and the approval of this law came unexpectedly, without ample discussion as was expected…

Brunori added, “The legislative branch has failed to… include regulation that would specifically guarantee access for Indigenous Peoples to obtain radio frequencies, allowing the exercise of their right to freedom of expression.”

The Commissioner offered assistance to correct current laws that contravene international standards like the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which guarantees Indigenous Peoples the right to their own forms of media.

Nevertheless, 2012 was a good year for Indigenous communicators. From Nov. 13-16, communicators from Argentina, Mexico, Bolivia, Colombia, Chile, Ecuador, French Guyana, Venezuela and Peru met in Buenos Aires to hold the International Parliament of Indigenous Media on the theme “Building Public Policies, Building Plurinational States.”

Indigenous communicators highlighted the importance of seeking new legislation strengthening indigenous communications as key tools to achieve full and effective participation in the political life of their countries. They are advocating for the existence of community media managed by Indigenous organizations and communities in each country.

In Colombia, more than 700 people participated in the National Forum of Indigenous Communication which took place in Popayán, Cauca, from Nov. 26-30. According to organizers, the central theme “Towards a differential public policy of communication and information” needs to be understood in the sense of “respecting the norms and the autonomy of Indigenous peoples, in tune with their territorial characteristics, their cultural, social and political processes” and the need to guarantee “specific resources for the implementation and execution of [their] own media”.

One of the organizers of the event, Vicente Otero of the Indigenous Regional Council of Cauca (CRIC), indicated that the forum called for a much broader state policy regarding communication. He added that “the issue of communication has never been on the agenda of governments and Indigenous leaders alike, nor in policies that favor Indigenous peoples.”

Both the International Parliament of Indigenous Media and the National Forum of Indigenous Communicators have taken important preparatory steps towards next year’s Second Continental Summit of Indigenous Communication to be held in Mexico.

  1. I was active with WACC in Thailand, and more widely in Asia, in the 1970s. Since returning to Thailand 20 years ago I've been active with the Kachin and other Burma-centred ethnic communities, more recently with First Nations in Canada, with Papua New Guineans, Australia's Aborigines and with Kadazans from Borneo. Professionally I work with Thai government radio. Privately I've like to help set up Indigenous radio and TV via the Internet. Anyone interested? We could broadcast stories of Guatemala's indigenous peoples from Bangkok to a worldwide audience.

    by Lance Woodruff

    December 28, 2012

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