WACC Latin America joins regional call to protect and promote Indigenous community media

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WACC Latin America joins regional call to protect and promote Indigenous community media

WACC’s Latin America region has joined with other regional communication networks in calling on the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) to take concrete action to ensure stronger promotion of Indigenous communication rights.

An autonomous organ of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR is one of the institutions within the inter-American system for the protection of human rights.

During a hearing at the IACHR annual meeting in early November, WACC Latin America and partners AMARC ALC, OBSERVACOM, and SIGNIS ALC explored the situation of community and Indigenous radio in Latin America and the Caribbean, sharing experiences of broadcasters over a long-term trajectory.

Uneven legal recognition of community media

A key issue is regulatory frameworks for community radio, which affect broadcasters in different countries in the region in an unequal manner, according to Leonardo Felix, WACC Latin America president.

Some States in the Americas do not give legal recognition to community and Indigenous media, while some of those that do recognize these broadcasters, have regulations that exclude or discriminate against them.

“The regulatory restrictions and burdensome operating conditions of many Indigenous community radio stations, as well as the limitation of their coverage, the duration of the concession and their sources of funding, demonstrated the need to address this issue at the OAS level through the IACHR,” Felix said.

A call for accountability

The communication networks submitted a 9-point petition urging the IACHR, through its Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression, to protect and promote community and Indigenous media.

The petition underlines the need for the IACHR to hold States accountable for the protection of communication rights for all, including a diverse media, in accordance with inter-American legal principles.

Unequal regulation stifles freedom of expression

Felix noted that some progress had been made over time, with community media being envisioned as a third sector alongside public and private commercial media and operating under terms aligned with inter-American standards. But this change had not been enough to generate an overall regulatory change on the continent, the WACC Latin America president said.

“Currently, there is verifiable criminal prosecution of community radio stations. Along with this, deficiencies in communication policies have meant that many community media have not been able to obtain authorization to use the radio spectrum, and therefore operate without approval, exposing them to closures and sanctions,” he pointed out.

Advocacy for State compliance in Guatemala

The petition from WACC Latin America and partner networks addresses a specific case of a State failing to act to recognize Indigenous radio, that of Guatemala. In December 2021 the Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruled that the government had violated Indigenous communication rights and had to undertake reforms to decriminalize Indigenous community radio in the country.

Through its Communication for All Program, WACC is supporting advocacy by the Guatemalan rights organization Asociacion Ixchel to ensure the Guatemalan government complies with the Court’s ruling and secures Indigenous peoples’ right to freedom of expression.

The IACHR event was organized in partnership with AMARC ALC (World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters Latin America and the Caribbean), OBSERVACOM (Latin American Observatory on Regulation, Media and Convergence), and SIGNIS ALC (Catholic Communication Agency in Latin America and the Caribbean).

—Based on a contribution by Leonardo Felix. Translation from the Spanish by DeepL.

Damián Loreti, legal advisor for the Latin American Observatory on Regulation, Media, and Convergence, speaks at the hearing on community and Indigenous media during the 188th session of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. Photo: Candela Loreti/OBSERVACOM