Community media under attack in three countries

Published on Thursday 24 November 2011. Updated on Friday 25 November 2011.
At least five privately-owned local and community-based media organizations in three South American countries have been the targets of violent attacks in the past few weeks, depriving some of them of the means to broadcast. Reporters Without Borders is committed to helping them rebuild.
The press freedom organization is seeking a detailed breakdown of the estimated damage they have suffered. In view of the extent of the losses, we are requesting assistance from the authorities in the countries concerned, from international bodies and from organizations specializing in support for the media.
“We hope these efforts to assist will allow the stations affected to resume normal programmes,” it said.
“Media organizations, particularly community radio stations, have a substantial presence in Latin America but do not universally receive the legal recognition owing to them. In some countries, such as Honduras, they are treated as criminals or persecuted regularly.
“Community radio stations, often run on a not-for-profit basis, are born from communities or social movements such as peasant farmers, native groups, African-Americans, women’s or gay and lesbians groups, and are often excluded from public debate. Yet they represent an important source of information on subjects of broad interest such as the environment, land disputes, minority issues or local development. They must be more protected in the interests of pluralism and in order to maintain their independence.“
The community radio station FM Pajsachama, based in El Retiro in the north-western province of Santiago del Estero, was attacked by two gunmen on 10 September two years after it was attacked with Molotov cocktails. The two attackers threatened the staff at gunpoint and destroyed workshops, equipment and radio installations.
The station is owned by the Santiago del Estero-Vía Campesina Peasant Movement (MOCASE-VC), which is committed to the defence of the indigenous population and exposes the seizure of their lands.
The station’s staff and members of the MOCASE movement, who have attracted the attention of agribusiness entrepreneurs with their eyes on native lands, are constantly attacked. MOCASE is currently mourning the death of one of its officials, Cristian Ferreyra, shot dead on 16 November. The community blames the killing on an ongoing dispute with agribusiness interests.
The local privately-owned radio station FM Sapucay in Alba Posse, in Misiones province, had most of its equipment destroyed by fire on 18 November. Its owner and manager, Vitalino Acosta, and Ricardo Arrua, president of the Press and Social Communication Workers Forum of Misiones, said the blaze was started deliberately.
“Early findings confirm that it was not an accident but an intentional act because traces of fuel were found,” Acosta said. The station is now off air.
The station has made allegations of mismanagement against the local authorities, in particular the mayor of Alba Posse, Nelson Carvalho. In 2003 its transmission cables were cut and two years later its transmitter was sabotaged. Two months ago the mayor himself forced his way into the studios and assaulted two journalists.
The radio station Radio Comunitaria Yapacaní and Canal 8 Televisión Comunitaria Yapacaní in the eastern province of Santa Cruz were vandalized on 14 November by a group of supporters of the mayor of Yapacani, David Carbajal, who has been implicated in a corruption case. The radio and television stations were able to partially resume broadcasts four days later after recovering 70 percent of the equipment dismantled and seized by the attackers.
The two stations are owned by the Federation of Intercultural Communities in Yapacani, set up by indigenous migrants from the Altiplano.
A federation official, Cirilo Sunavi, told Reporters Without Borders: “Mayor Carbajal, who is affiliated to the Federation and owes his career to it, is today applying himself to dividing organizations against each other. He is incompetent.
“Of 38 million bolivanos (5.5 million dollars) in the proposed budget, he has invested only 1 million. That is why people are angry. The radio and television stations merely report this information and in return are subjected to invasion and vandalism of their premises by members of other communities.”
In 2006 the two media outlets were forced to suspend their operations because of a similar internal dispute. The manager of Canal 8, José Antonio Rivas, told Reporters Without Borders he and wife were the targets of constant threats.
The community television station Agro TV, which covers local development, reported an attack on 21 October on its installations in Cerro Monjas, in Quillota province near the central city of Valparaiso.
The cables supporting the transmission tower were cut, causing it to collapse and destroying most of its equipment. The station is still unable to broadcast.
The manager, César Ramos Silva, is cautious about a motive for the attack but does not rule out a dispute with the commercial broadcasting industry. “Besides my role as manager of the rural television station, I am also vice-president of the Chilean National Association of Community and Citizens’ Radio Stations (ANARCICH), and in recent months I have successfully carried out numerous actions on the part of the organization against the abuses of commercial broadcasters,” Silva told Reporters Without Borders.
However, Silva said he had no formal proof to support this theory.
However, unfair competition exists and adds to the precariousness of community radio stations in Chile in the absence of adequate legislation giving them their proper place in the country’s broadcast media.
The possibility of closure through legal action hangs over Kimche Mapu, a radio station of the indigenous Mapuche community, for interception of telecommunications, as a result of a complaint by Gilberto Santana, a local councillor and owner of the station Radio Lanco.
“This is unacceptable in view of the flagrant conflict of interest shown in this complaint,” Reporters Without Borders said. The procedural persecution of Kimche Mapu is shameful in view of the station’s limited range which covers five communities and a total of 1,300 people.
“For some time, Kimche Mapu has been seeking full official recognition and this process has suffered undue delay. “
The press freedom organization joins AMARC, the World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters, in calling for the reform or replacement of Chile’s community and citizens’ radio law enacted in 2010.
This year has been marked by numerous instances of brutality by security forces towards the press during student protests.
Reporters Without Borders condemns the detention and ill-treatment of Estebán Sánchez of the station Radio ADN and of his independent Brazilian colleague Victor Farinelli by the Carabineros armed police.
They were detained on 21 November during a controversial tribute to Miguel Krassnoff, a former officer convicted of human rights crimes committed during the Pinochet dictatorship.