Every year, May 3rd is a date which celebrates the fundamental principles of press freedom; to evaluate press freedom around the world, to defend the media from attacks on their independence and to pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the exercise of their profession.

2014 Theme is: Media Freedom for a Better Future: Shaping the post-2015 Development Agenda.

3 May was proclaimed World Press Freedom Day the UN General Assembly in 1993 following a Recommendation adopted at the twenty-sixth session of UNESCO’s General Conference in 1991.

- See more at: http://en.unesco.org/events/world-press-freedom-day-2014#sthash.B9vQnESm.dpuf

May 3 is ‘World Press Freedom Day’ – an occasion to celebrate, to review, to strategize and plan: An excellent occasion to consider the situation of Freedom for community radio around the world. Have we advanced the past year(s)?

With this year’s theme being “Media Freedom for a better future: Shaping the post-2015 Development Agenda” it is a good occasion to look back at the challenges community radio is facing, and on this basis plan for the onward necessities, shaping the future?

 

As I sat down to write this May 3 blog, news arrived from my colleague and friend in Central Mozambique, John Chekwa, Station manager of CMC Catandica.

For this reason Mozambique has become the case and example in this blog. Many other countries could have – unfortunately – told very similar stories…

John wrote: “Community Radio Catandica closed without notice or reasons given”. A week ago the district government informed the station to stop its programming as the authorities had decided to rehabilitate the building and covered it with plywood and plastic.

While the fact that the authorities volunteer support to the radio station may sound good, the station manager explains that this was not planned and not really needed, as it had recently been done – and when it happened in the past, it could take place without interfering with the programming.

CMC Catandica is recognized as one of the stations in Mozambique, taking its role as the channel and platform for debate of issues important for the community really serious.

And if the authorities for some reason should not want too much light on and attention towards all financial transactions, service delivery challenges, and short-comings in the protection of the environment – just to mention a few, well, then of course an untimely renovation may have been an attempt to cover up an illegitimate closure of the station.

“The voices of the people are now silent”, the station manager said and quoted local academics for proposing that it is the good governance monitoring function of the station, that is the real reason for the closure.

As the station manager closes his blog: “Despite the fact that the local authorities usually appreciate and recognize the role and value of this community radio, they by this act demonstrate that they are insensitive and have no democratic legitimacy”.

 

“Threats and intimidation towards journalists in community radios”

The above CMC Catandica case is just one more example of how the FREEDOM space for community radio is being squeezed in Mozambique, where all looked so good 20 years ago, when the country moved into a multi-party democratic reality with one of Africa’s most open and democratic media laws passed as a priority.

On the basis of the much colder winds press freedom-wise, FORCOM, the Forum of Community Radios and Multimedia Centres in Mozambique in January this year sent out a communique: “Threats and intimidation towards journalists in community radios”, presenting cases of increasing pressure on community radio in Mozambique the past 3 years, starting with authorities requesting closure of stations, when presenting information that the local authorities did not want out into the open, escalating to become death threats, and suspicious people being found around the stations.

When FORCOM was started, it was not in the cards that safe houses and clandestine escapes for community radio broadcasters would become necessary in that environment, but in November 2013 FORCOM had to step in for one station, while others around the same time received threats to silence their stations “or else”…

Due to the increasing gravity of the situation, FORCOM in the communiqué stresses that

  • the right to access to information is an unquestionable element for the survival and continued development of citizenship,
  • the right to information and freedom of expression and of the press are fundamental pillars in the consolidation of rule of law and of development and peace.

Therefore FORCOM urges that the independence and autonomy of community radio is respected and that the freedom is restored in the communities where the voices had been silenced. On the basis of this FORCOM offers its openness to engage in a constructive dialogue with the state and the Mozambican government:

  • to find the truth and share important information with the communities in general and especially with and through the community radios that are members of FORCOM
  • to secure space on member stations for dialogue between the authorities and the communities
  • political will and readiness to work together with Government and all other democratic forces towards democracy, peace and development of the country.

 

NEW DEVELOPMENT: FORCOM receives EU support

May 4: The day after writing the above, news is out that EU and FORCOM May 3 signed a new project of USD 350.000, which  will support the FORCOM member stations’ role in the lead up to the October 2014 elections.

FORCOM’s Executive Director, Benilde Nhalevilo, stressed when signing, that the project seeks to strengthen awareness so that citizens can make free and conscious choices in elections.

Through the community radios, she added, citizens would have a voice in democratic processes.

With this project, she said, FORCOM would certainly make a contribution to the presidential, parliamentary and provincial elections scheduled for 15 October. She urged the government to respect the freedom of the press and of expression of the community radios, and to ensure that the process of migration from analogue to digital systems does not limit citizens” right to information. More on this here

Community Radios to pay same taxes as Commercial Radio in Moz?

As if the political pressure mentioned above was not enough, the National Institute of Communication in Mozambique has announced plans for community radios to pay the same exorbitant taxes to the state as commercial stations do. In an exchange with FORCOM (referred to in the Mozambican weekly ‘Savana’ March 21. 2014) the Institute stresses that they are well aware that community radio are not-for-profit, most usually functioning in a survival-mode and without any means to pay.

Still, they need the income, they say. And as they never had that income before, the thought that this is one more way from the Government to silence the annoying voices of the people???

MISA  commemorating World Press Freedom Day

It is Media Institute of Southern Africa’s (MISA) mandate to defend press freedom and the safety of journalists 355 days every year, and 2014 has so far not given any hope that the world has become a better place. MISA Regional Director, Ms Zoé Titus said, “Press freedom violations in Egypt, Ukraine, Venezuela, Russia and Turkey have dominated the headlines, but journalists are also doing it tough in southern Africa.” She encourages all media to document abuses against hard won freedoms and use this in actions to win the important spaces back.

And the cases are many and continuous: In Zimbabwe a community radio was raided by police April 25, and in Swaziland MISA engages in the 2 year jail term or R200,00 fine Imposed on Swazi Editor Bheki Makhubu for ‘Scandalising the court’, which the Southern African Editors Forum (SAEF) strongly condemns  as “Makhubu was charged, convicted and sentenced for exercising his freedom of expression. He has been punished for his views on the judiciary in his country published in the Nation Magazine.  The action against Makhubu is not only a violation of his own rights and an assault on media freedom. This is an act designed to intimidate the media in Swaziland and discourage them from being critical.”

AMARC focuses on censorship on 2014 Press Freedom Day

On World Press Freedom Day, AMARC reminds the importance of preserving the diversity of voices and opinions, ensures a fair representation of gender and minorities on the airwaves as well as the importance to maintain a climate in which members of the press can exercise their profession without pressures or fear. Through its projects and with the help of its many partners,

AMARC also works to enforce the skills needed to critically analyze information.

 

 

 

Bangladesh: all 14 stations celebrate and discuss the future

In all 14 stations discussions will be held on ‘Media Freedom for a Better Future: Shaping the Post-2015 Development Agenda’.

The themes discussed will include ‘Media’s importance in Development’, ‘safety of journalists and the rule of law’ and ‘sustainability and integrity of journalism’.

 

 

 

A future with … press freedom also for community media!

Many more cases could be cited where the community media are struggling for legal, political and financial spaces of not just survival – but good enabling environments. The post 2015 agenda will need to address this.

And AMARC 11, the next global conference taking place in Ghana August 2015, among others plans to focus on this: “AMARC 11 will deepen the international solidarity needed to break the regulatory and other impediments that prevent community radios from thriving in Africa.” – and looking to the challenges in many Asian countries also at the present time, we should open the focus and simply say: “… that prevent community radios from thriving!”

 

Still: don’t forget to celebrate:

Happy World Press Freedom Day