DP: Giving voice to vulnerable communities

I recently read in the paper by Mary Myers Is There a Link Between Media and Good Governance? a phrase by Amartya Sen: “A free press has an important protective function in giving voice to the neglected and the disadvantaged, which can greatly contribute to human security”. This created an special interest to me since in my country, Mexico, there are dozens of vulnerable populations in which capital income is extremely low, the living conditions are not safe neither stable, and where the dialogue with the authorities and the rest of civil society is only possible through media.

However, as I stated in previous texts, as well as there are certain conditions that ensure access to information for the population there are also conditions on which a media outlet is able to inform and give voice to its people.

The role of community radio

In the context of vulnerable populations, at least in Mexico, it seems to me there is no better answer among the existing media, than community radio. According to the World Association of Community Radio in Mexico (AMARC-MX), community radio “are those stations that emerge from the community to serve the community and have community engagement in the ownership of the media, as well as in programming, management, operation, financing and evaluation. There are nonprofit independent media […] and have as core work to support local social development processes and human rights. ”

Community radio is a vital tool for the sustainable development of indigenous and other vulnerable populations given its capabilities and technical facilities, because it is relatively easy to get a signal within the radio frequency. Also, due to its ability to reach large segments of the population on a low cost both for transmission and reception and because of the nature of the medium that allows a large volume and depth of information, tailored to the needs of certain human groups such as their language, educational level and intrinsic requirements for development.

Due to its communal nature and low budget as well as an unfortunate legislation that exists in Mexico, which has favored for many years high concentration of media ownership, community radio stations are in a high vulnerable situation because of their “non regulated” status. Also, for the past several years, there have been acts of violence against them not only by government agencies but by other stakeholders and even organized crime.

Why? Because it is these people who are the most susceptible to the interests of political and social groups that constantly offer capital and material resources in the name of development, seeking other real interests such as acceptance for support in a given movement or even a vote in the election.

In this case, and being aware of the implications of an assumption like this, it seems that misinformation is an advantage for some of these groups, thereby achieving greater manipulation of populations.

Proof of this is the report of the AMARC-MX, Status of Community Radio in Mexico, stating that “Since June 2008 to December 2011, we have documented a toughening in government persecution against radios operating without permission. The Mexican government, through the Federal Telecommunications Commission (Cofetel), the Ministry of Interior (SEGOB) and the Attorney General’s Office (PGR), have sent Federal Police squads with over 100 elements to close radios, some less than 5 watts where there were only five people, including women and children. These facts constitute excessive use of police force. In addition to these human rights violations criminal proceedings against members of the community radio have initiated … ”

“End of attacks, community radio demand” cc http://www.jornada.unam.mx/ “Community Radio, under siege of the government and narco” cc http://www.proceso.com.mx

 

It is definitely a situation of concern, not only because of the violence and violation of human rights itself, but because these events have limited the capacity and the existence of community radio, along with other independent media, to serve populations in most critical situations within the country.

 

The formula to underdevelopment

Poor legislation on telecommunications + non guarantee on safety + government agencies attacks

=

lack of independent media + absence of other truthful and available media

=

lack of value information to vulnerable populations + poor livelihoods

=

lack of good governance

 

While it is difficult to contemplate the existence of an underdevelopment condition, it is possible to perceive a clear lack of good governance and therefore a major limitation for civil society to participate actively in the activities of the State, in terms of transparency, accountability, freedom and equity. Under this circumstances, its virtually impossible to create conditions in a community for any sustainable development scenario such as poverty eradication, increase in literacy rate, environment conservation, gender equality, decrease in economic inequality, increase in the state of peace, guarantee of basic goods and sustainable livelihoods.

“Free and independent media in turn enable people to participate in the governance process by providing them access to adequate and credible information about government activities, and by giving them a vehicle through which they can make their input into decision-making” says Edetaen Ojo, in the paper Should media mirror society or shape it? *

So even though the formula to achieve good governance and thus the community development (along with many other factors) is not complete and in an ideal state, the government should at least guarantee the existence of independent uncensored media and specifically community radio. This implies the cease of attacks and beyond, the protection of the media form other external offenders such as organized crime, political groups and other media groups.

This way a flow of information to the community is ensured, but moreover an open space is provides in order to fight “the exclusion of the less favored voices of society and the speeches of the historically marginalized sectors” as said by the AMARC-MX.

 

*For more information look at: Media and Good Governance, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, 2005.

 


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