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How Community Radio Is Getting Its Game On

I rode the back of a big red truck with Massachusetts plates all the way from Guatemala City to La Antigua with a bunch of so called pirate radio folks. It was really the best view in town and it punctuated the end of a long morning that started at 4 AM to make it in time to Guatemala City for a press conference on community radio. The bill being discussed is called “The Law of the Community Radio Number 4087” which if passed would guarantee the use of at least one FM frequency for community radio in each of Guatemala’s 333 municipalities. Multiple towns could use the same frequency because of their limited broadcast range and one-third of all FM frequencies would be added to a new reserve as they become available.

To experiment with live coverage (and keeping my multi-tasking neurons firing) I live streamed the press conference using Ustream.Tv and also CoverItLive and you can see the results here. One hundred and twenty people showed up, reporters, community members to listen to Frank La Rue (Relator de libertad de expresion de la ONU), Rigoberta Menchu (Premio Nobel de la Paz 1992), Marvin Orellana (Ponente de Ley de Radios Comunitarias No. 4087), and Rodolfo Castanon (Miembro de Comision de Pueblos Indigenas del Congreso) speak on the subject. It was a very encouraging press conference not only because the only time that many reporters show up to a press conference in the US is when the president is in town, but because the theme that continued to come up was the need to have open and legal spaces for free expression to happen and to create plurality.

“In Latin America we prioritize and privilege commercial information. What is important about freedom of expression is pluralism and diversity. That’s what we must come to go beyond the monopoly,” said Menchu.  Other memorable quotes from Menchu included:  “All media has an obligation to the right of citizenship. What is not in law, is not illegal because it is not a law and does not exist or is not not allowed.” What has stuck with me since I’ve started covering this story is the sound that dozens of radio reporters make in one room as they broadcast into a cellphone in their native languages. It’s the sound of information breaking sound barriers.

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