Reporters Without Borders hails the definitive adoption of a community media law by the chamber of representatives on 12 December. The press freedom organisation has always supported this law, drafted with civil society help, and regards it as an example for the rest of Latin America, although implementation will not be easy because of the many small radio stations involved.
“We hope that this law, when it takes effect, will be the fairest solution to the challenged posed by community media, which are growing fast in Latin America and are important vehicles of local news and diverse views that cannot remain underground,” Reporters Without Borders said. “We think the way this law defines their status and establishes criteria and condition for assigning broadcast frequencies is a real advance and we hope it inspires other countries in the region.”
The law definitively adopted on 12 December had been passed on its first reading almost unanimously on 5 June and had been approved in a similar fashion by the senate on 14 November. It stipulates that a third of the available frequencies will be assigned to community media, mostly small radio stations estimated by a private survey quoted in the El País daily to number around 200.
Community media will have 60 days from the date the law takes effect to register with the Regulatory Union of Community Services (Ursec) and thereby become candidates to receive a legal frequency. Only stations that have been broadcasting for at least one year before the law takes effect will be able to register.
Drafted initially by the World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters (AMARC), the Uruguayan Press Association and the PIT-CNT labour federation, the law defines community radio and TV stations as “services of public interest, independent of the state, provided by non-profit civil society organisations” with the aim of “satisfying the communication needs” of the country’s citizens and “exercising their right to news and information and freedom of expression.”
To be able to broadcast as a “community” media, radio and TV stations must not be commercial enterprises and must not practice political or religious proselytism. Aside from that, the law imposes few restrictions on them.
The main innovation in the law is the way frequencies will be assigned in an “open, transparent and public” fashion instead of at the government’s discretion, as in the past. An honorary, consultative council consisting of representatives from government, civil society and state and private universities will henceforth intervene in the process of assigning and renewing frequencies (see 15 November release). It will also help the Ursec register the media.