An enabling framework
Community radio functions in a national and international setting, with legal frameworks and international conventions that set the immediate framework for the creation and functioning of the community radio. Frank LaRue, the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression in La Plata, Argentina, during AMARC 10, November identifies four major challenges for community radio in the 21st century 2010 (reported by: Arne Hintz http://media.mcgill.ca/en/blog/872). While the physical threat against journalists is not only perpetrated by governments, the other three challenges are manifestations of inappropriate legal frameworks, or their inappropriate implementation:
Challenges for community radio in the 21st century
Censorship laws in many countries (including the North and West), penalize freedom of expression. In this context Frank LaRue rejects the criminalization of the unauthorized use of radio frequencies (or, 'pirate radio'). Secondly, physical violence against journalists is persistent around the globe, particularly violence against non-professionals from community radios, blogs and other grassroots media. Thirdly, media concentration and the links between media power and political power (in countries such as Guatemala, Italy and elsewhere) reduce media pluralism. LaRue rejected limits to transmission power for community radio which assign these media a role as 'second-class media' and 'poor people's radio'. Finally, he pointed to increasing surveillance by state and private sectors.
An appropriate legal environment is important for a variety of aspects of running a community radio and is at play throughout the entire development of the radio station:
- At the time of the establishment of the community radio station or other community media, by providing communities with easy, transparent and affordable access to gain licences.
- During broadcasting by providing protection through transparent legal frameworks not criminalising programme production, and where community members without a journalistic education and not registered with state agencies are legally able to practice their ‘freedom of expression’.
- By promoting community broadcasting by e.g. ensuring favourable customs rules, and provisions that district authorities may make physical infrastructure available to the community groups/broadcasters.
In an attempt to guide legislators on ways of tackling the broad radio environment and to provide a good model, international declarations such as the African Charter on Broadcasting have been issued to meet the need for a clear and easily implemented legal framework. The first article of part one of the charter deals with general regulatory issues, outlining the three-tier system:
‘The legal framework for broadcasting should include a clear statement of the principles underpinning broadcast regulation, including promoting respect for freedom of expression, diversity, and the free flow of information and ideas, as well as a three-tier system for broadcasting: public service, commercial and community.’
Additional aspects of a framework for regulations, fit to promote the above principles, include the following:
- All formal powers in the areas of broadcast and telecommunications regulation should be exercised by public authorities, protected against interference, particularly of a political or economic nature, by, among other things, an appointment process for members of the committees or groups, which is open, transparent, involves the participation of civil society, and is not controlled by any particular political party.
- Decision-making processes about the overall allocation of the frequency spectrum should be open and participatory, and ensure that a fair proportion of the spectrum is allocated to broadcasting uses.
- The frequencies allocated to broadcasting should be shared equitably among the three tiers of broadcasting.
- Licensing processes for the allocation of specific frequencies to individual broadcasters should be fair and transparent, and based on clear criteria which include promoting media diversity in ownership and content.
- Broadcasters should be required to promote and develop local content, including through the introduction of minimum quotas.
- States should promote an economic environment that facilitates the development of independent production and diversity in broadcasting.
- The development of appropriate technology for the reception of broadcasting signals should be promoted.
Apart from legislation to ensure access to the airwaves and the need to insist that an appropriate part of the broadcast be reserved for community and (other) alternative voices, a crucial aspect of the necessary legal framework concerns access to information: what can one do with a radio space and a desire to monitor local governance if remaining unable to solicit information from decision-makers? Access to information in African, Asian and Middle Eastern Countries alike is an ongoing challenge.
An example of powerful and appropriate legislation on community and alternative media is the law passed in 2009 in Argentina (http://www.loc.gov/lawweb/servlet/lloc_news?disp3_l205401687_text) It overturns broadcasting legislation installed 1980 by the military dictatorship which banned community associations from accessing broadcast licenses, and guaranteed private media holders large profits by limiting media ownership to private corporations.
The new legislation changed that and ensured one third of licenses for commercial groups, a third for government and public use, and a third for non-governmental organisations including community radio. The new law was spearheaded by the Coalition for Democratic Broadcasting, a coalition of more than 300 groups, including unions, community media organisations, and human rights groups like the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo. For more than two years the coalition acted as an advisory committee to develop the bill.