Community media essential to protecting the Amazon, concludes new WACC publication

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A new WACC-supported study underlines the centrality of community radio to bridge communication and information gaps that hinder local communities in the Amazon from actively participating in forming environmental policy.

The publication, “Voces de la Amazonia: Diagnóstico Ambiental – Comunicacional de la Amazonia Ecuatoriana, Brasileña y Colombiana” (Voices of the Amazon: An assessment of communication and environmental needs of the Brazilian, Colombian, and Ecuadorean Amazon), was presented yesterday by WACC and several of its Latin American partners at an event co-organized by the Office of Education and Communication for Development (SECRAD) of the Bolivian Catholic University (UCB) in La Paz, Bolivia.

The newly published needs assessment was carried out in the context of Voices of the Amazon, a multi-year project supported by WACC, Bread for the World-Germany, and the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund (PWRDF).

Through the project, the Latin American Network of Radio Education (ALER) together with local partners Amazon Radio Network–RNA (Brazil), Grupo COMUNICARTE (Colombia), and Ecuadorean Network of Community Radio Broadcasters –CORAPE are training a network of citizen environmental journalists.

Localizing climate action

The needs assessment asked how questions of climate justice intersect with communication deficits at the grassroots level in the Amazon region, according to Lorenzo Vargas, WACC Communication for Social Change program manager.

“This is in line with current thinking on localization of development programs and public policies, including efforts to tackle climate change, to make them more effective, relevant, and sustainable,” he said.

He noted that teams of community-based researchers in the three countries did interviews, surveys, and extensive desk research, led by Danny Salamanca (Colombia), Jessica Santos (Brazil), and Patricio Ceron (Ecuador) with the support of ALER consultant Angela Castellanos and himself.

Individual pictures of Hugo Ramírez Huamán (ALER), Brayan Arismendy Estupiñan (Grupo Comunicarte), Jessica Santos de Oliveira (RNA), Jorge Luis Arteaga Bolaños (CORAPE), Lorenzo Vargas (WACC), Ángela Castellanos (consultant) speaking

Barriers to communicating climate justice

Speakers highlighted the main conclusion of the research, namely that, across the Amazon communities consulted, there are major communication and information gaps that undermine the ability of local communities to shape public debates related to climate and environmental policies.

They said the assessment found multiple reasons for these communication barriers:

  • the influence of local economic and political actors involved in extractivist activities (mining, logging, oil extraction, cattle ranching, mass industrial agriculture) in shaping debates on digital and analogue media
  • the growing number of misinformation campaigns seeking to question climate science and the need to conserve the Amazon
  • limited internet connectivity
  • a dearth of public interest media
  • limited access to information in Indigenous languages

Community radio fosters trust, cohesion

Presenters said that in this context, local community radio — combined with digital tools — was identified as central because it is a very accessible and affordable medium that can help generate trust and foster community cohesion.

The presenters highlighted a series of recommendations that “Voces de la Amazonia” provides to respond to communication and information gaps:

  • fostering connections between mass media workers and climate justice advocates
  • strengthening existing community communication processes
  • calling for the differentiated allocation of community broadcasting licenses for communities impacted by climate change
  • promoting the documentation and dissemination of traditional ecological knowledge (TEK)
  • establishing networks of citizen community reporters

The authors of the study warned against the dangers of satellite internet access for some Indigenous communities, as highlighted recently by The New York Times, and called on government and private donors to step up their efforts to fund media-related development work, which, as WACC has commented, is pitifully low.

“The findings are in line with WACC’s position that it is impossible to address the climate crisis unless the voices, concerns, and solutions of local communities impacted by the effects of climate change — communities who are often at the forefront of climate justice movements to protect natural resources — are at the center of the public debate,” Vargas commented.

“As WACC General Secretary Philip Lee wrote in the report’s preface, ‘There is no climate justice without communication justice.’”

Individual pictures of Alma Montoya (Grupo Comunicarte), José Luis Aguirre (SECRAD), Betzabé Saca (FOSPA), Dra. Ximena Péres Arenas (UCB), Msgr. Eugenio Corter (CEB) speaking


Communication rights and climate justice

WACC made a conscious decision to launch the “Voces de la Amazonia” publication now in La Paz to coincide with the 11th edition of the Pan Amazon Social Forum (FOSPA), being held 12–15 June in Rurrenabaque, Bolivia, Vargas said.

“FOSPA is the main space for civil society and Indigenous organization working on Amazon-related issues from the nine countries that are home to this vital ecosystem. This edition of FOSPA focuses on four main axes — Mother Earth, Indigenous rights, alternatives to extractivism, and women’s resistance — and promises to be a pivotal civil society organizing ahead of the UN Biodiversity Conference COP 16 in Cali, Colombia, in October 2024 and the UN Climate Conference COP 30 in Belem, Brazil, in November 2025.”

The Voices of the Amazon project is taking place within the framework of WACC’s Communication Rights and Climate Justice program. See the WACC publication Communicating Climate Justice to learn more about the intersection between communication rights and climate justice.

Youth Indigenous reporters at Radio Sucumbios in the Ecuadorean Amazon. Photo credit: CORAPE-Ecuador