Reporters Without Borders calls on Mexico’s federal authorities to clarify the legal situation of community radios that are threatened with closure or repeated suspension. The case of Radio Totopo, a station based in Juchitán (in the southern state of Oaxaca), is one of many that highlight Mexico’s failure to respect international agreements protecting community media.
“The way the authorities currently deal with community media - which are nearly all radio stations - is both arbitrary and absurd,” the press freedom organisation said.
“Some stations operate under the community label although their format and goals are clearly commercial. Community media need to have legislation that meets their criteria. At the same time, the way broadcast frequencies are assigned results in a discretionary system that very often discriminates against the small indigenous community stations that the government is supposed to help under the constitution and certain international treaties.”
Reporters Without Borders added: “Confiscating the equipment of more and more stations on the grounds that they are broadcasting illegally will not solve anything. Our organisation will support any constructive initiative involving the authorities and the national and international organisations that represent community media.”
Radio Totopo broadcasts 95 per cent of its programmes in the Zapotec language to the four indigenous communities in its region. One of its coordinators, Carlos Sánchez Mártinez, told Reporters Without Borders that the station fears it could be closed after a series of raids on 29 August by the Federal Preventive Police (PFP) against 14 stations that claim to be community media although some were regarded as commercial.
Some stations were launched on the initiative of Oaxaca state governor Ulises Ruíz Ortiz, who has often clashed with the local press and whose bodyguards were alleged to have been involved in the murder of US cameraman Brad Will of the Indymedia agency during a serious social and political crisis in the autumn of 2006 (see releases).
The fears of Oaxaca’s indigenous media have also been fueled by the murders of Teresa Bautista Flores, 24, and Felicitas Martínez, 20 - both employees of La Voz que Rompe el Silencio (The Voice that Breaks the Silence), a radio station broadcasting to the Trique indigenous community - on 7 April in the small locality of Putla de Guerrero. Their murders have not been solved.
More generally, as Reporters Without Borders and other organisations - the Mexican branch of the World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters (AMARC), the Association for the Right to Information and Article 19 - have noted, discretionary practices continue to prevail in the assignment of frequencies and closures of radio stations.
Between 12 June and 17 July, no fewer than 40 of the 131 available frequencies were assigned to mainly commercial radio stations, at the expense of community and educational stations. Several media - such as Radio Ñomndaa and La Palabra del Agua in the southwestern state of Guerrero on 12 July and Radio Tierra y Libertad a month earlier in the northeastern state of Nuevo León - were closed or their equipment was seized by the federal police during the same period. At the same time, many frequency requests by community radio stations were rejected.
Reporters Without Borders points out that the Mexican authorities are required by article 2 of the constitution to “provide for the conditions under which the indigenous peoples and communities can acquire, operation and administer means of communication.” In September 1990, Mexico also ratified the International Labour Organisation’s Convention No. 169 giving indigenous communities and minorities the right to have the own media and to receive the necessary aid for this purpose.
As a member of the Organisation of American States, Mexico is bound by the legal precedents set by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and by its Declaration of Principles, article 2 of which establishes the right to “receive, seek and impart information by any means of communication without any discrimination for reasons of race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinions, national or social origin, economic status, birth or any other social condition.”
The San Andrés Larrainzar accords signed in February 1996 also state that “the indigenous populations can have their own media.”