Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Stephen Dunifer on Liberating the Commons

Sunday Oct 26th, 2008 11:01 PM
Liberating the broadcast spectrum through electronic civil disobedience and being a voice for the voiceless defines the essential nature of Free Radio.

"Radio is one sided when it should be two. It is purely an apparatus for distribution, for mere sharing out. So here is a positive suggestion: change this apparatus over from distribution to communication. The radio would be the finest possible communication apparatus in public life, a vast network of pipes. That is to say, it would be if it knew how to receive as well as transmit, how to let the listener speak as well as hear, how to bring him into a relationship instead of isolating him. " Bertolt Brecht - "The Radio as an Apparatus of Communication"

Since the very beginning of radio broadcasting many people and communities have envisioned it as precisely this – a way for the community to speak to itself and to give voice to the voiceless. Further, community radio has been an intimate friend of many struggles for self-determination and liberation from oppression.

In the late 1980’s a community in Springfield, Illinois, initially organized as a tenants rights group, empowered itself with 3-5 watt FM broadcast transmitter. Calling it microradio, its founder - Mbanna Kantako - went on the air to stop the rampant and violent abuse of his community by the Springfield police department, a housing project. Within a short period of time the radio station, first known as Tenants Rights Radio then Black Liberation Radio (later changed to Human Rights Radio), became not only a source of resistance to the depredations of the police but a vital source of news and information for the community. It was a medium where people could hear the voices of their neighbors speaking about their concerns, sharing their art, music and culture as well as gripping bedside interviews with the victims of police brutality. Despite the eventual razing of the John Hays Housing Project and the dispersal of its residents, Human Rights Radio remains on the air in Springfield, Illinois. Due largely to the efforts of Human Rights Radio, the degree of police brutality against the African-American community has dropped precipitously.

Although he was not involved directly in the creating of the Free Radio Movement, arising a few years later in the early 1990’s, Mbanna Kantako served as an inspiration and example for many others to follow.

“The Radio of the Future — the central tree of our consciousness — will inaugurate new ways to cope with our endless undertakings and will unite all mankind.”

“The main Radio station, that stronghold of steel, where clouds of wires cluster like strands of hair, will surely be protected by a sign with a skull and crossbones and the familiar word "Danger," since the least disruption of Radio operations would produce a mental blackout over the entire country, a temporary loss of consciousness.”

Velimir Khlebnikov - The Radio of the Future

Since the early days of radio broadcasting, unlicensed broadcasting, referred to pejoratively as “pirate broadcasting”, has existed side by side with “legitimately” sanctioned broadcasting. Usually the endeavor of single individuals and communities, it did not become a political and social movement in the United States until the early 1990’s where it emerged as the Free Radio Movement or Micopower Broadcasting. Organized or not, unlicensed broadcasting has always been an attempt to gain access to the broadcast commons by rejecting the confined spaces (political, social and artistic) created, regulated and imposed by the state. In response, commercial and pecuniary inerests promulgated constructs restricting access to the broadcast commons.

Since the inception of Communications Act of 1934, which essentially placed the broadcast airwaves in corporate hands with a modicum of regulatory oversight by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), there has been a ever increasing transfer of media resources into fewer and fewer hands. Beginning in 1934, the FCC has waved the fig leaf of “public need, necessity and convenience” to cover the naked ownership of the public air-waves by corporate entities. The seeds for a grassroots media rebellion were sown by over a decade of broadcast deregulation starting with the Reagan presidency and culminating with the massive multi-billion dollar give-away known as the Telecommunications Act of 1996.

With massive media oligarchies looming on the horizon, it was becoming apparent to some people that action had to be taken - the more the radical the better. As a direct Free Speech challenge to the regulatory structure and statutory authority of the FCC, Free Radio Berkeley took to the airwaves on April 11, 1993. Seeking to break to the corporate stranglehold on the broadcast spectrum, Free Radio Berkeley’s efforts soon began to inspire others to adopt the strategy of direct action.

Within the first year after the initial broadcast of Free Radio Berkeley, it became clear that the Free Radio Movement was part of a much larger global endeavor. Community radio is rooted in the struggles of people for a just and humane existence. Whether it was: Bolivian tin miners establishing radio stations in the late 1940’s as part of a campaign to improve working conditions; Radio Rebelde’s role in the Cuban Revolution; Czech citizens creating clandestine radio stations after the crushing of the Prague Spring in 1968 by the USSR; or the supportive role of community radio in the recent uprising by indigenous people in Bolivia to reclaim their natural resources – community radio has always been a tool of expression and organization.

“By not having to answer to the monster media monopolies, the independent media has a life work, a political project and purpose: to let the truth be known. This is more and more important in the globalization process. This truth becomes a knot of resistance against the lie. It is our only possibility to save the truth, to maintain it, and distribute it, little by little, just as the books were saved in Fahrenheit 451--in which a group of people dedicated themselves to memorize books, to save them from being destroyed, so that the ideas would not be lost.”
- Subcomandante Marcos addressing the Freeing the Media Teach-In, January, 1997

After the first coup against Haitian President Jean Bertrand Aristide, Free Radio Berkeley supplied transmitters to peasant organizations fighting against the coup. Transmitters also went to both the Chiapas jungle and the urban streets of Mexico City. International efforts by Free Radio Berkeley were first formalized as International Radio Action Training and Education (IRATE). With the broadcasting operation shut down by a federal court injunction, all the energies and resources of Free Radio Berkeley were turned toward empowering people and communities with the tools, knowledge, technology and ability to build and create their own radio stations, both domestically and internationally. Currently, Free Radio Berkeley operates a project called TUPA – Transmitters Uniting the Peoples of the Americas. Overall, the goal is to establish regional transmitter manufacturing and training facilities throughout the Americas, and create a Free Radio Federation of the Americas that will work to secure and maintain the right to communicate by the peoples of the Americas.

As the struggle initiated by the Zapatistas against the depredations of neo-liberalism and global capital began to coalesce into a world-wide movement of resistance and direct action, a global alternative media network was born in the CS gas and pepper spray permeated streets of Seattle in 1999 – the Independent Media Center (IMC). It combined all the emerging alternative media elements into one synergistic entity. Occupation of the streets had morphed into an occupation of the electromagnetic sphere. Using a central web site and mirror sites, the IMC was able to provide continuous coverage of the events in Seattle through audio and video streams, still images and written articles and an internet radio station which provided a 24 hour stream that was picked up and rebroadcast by Free Radio and community radio stations around the world. Over 500 journalists and media activists contributed to this effort. Several local Free Radio stations joined in the effort as well. One operated from a platform in a tree on the Olympic Peninsula using a directional antenna to beam the signal into Seattle. Since then, the number of Independent Media Centers has grown to over 150, covering every continent with the exception of Antarctica.

“The first great struggle of the IWW was for the free speech necessary to spread the word and organize. Free speech was free, the Wobblies found, only if what was said was what the bosses wanted the workers to hear. Otherwise it had to be paid for by a jail sentence and often by a slugging from police or vigilantes. It was generally held, particularly in the West, that the First Amendment did not apply to the IWW because its cowboys, lumberjacks, and miners were un-American. The IWW fought for free speech by exercising it, and exercising it on such a wholesale scale wherever it was threatened that the jails bulged and the streets echoed with the forbidden word until the authorities rued the day they had ever banned it.”

Labor's Untold Story: The Adventure Story of the Battles, Betrayals and Victories of American Working Men And Women by Richard O. Boyer and Herbert M. Morais

Grounding itself in the direct action tactics of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) and using the combined tactics of legal action and street heat employed to great effect by the Civil Rights Movement, the Free Radio Movement began a series of protracted battles and skirmishes with not only the FCC itself but the unseen hand behind the FCC - the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB). Representing the multi-billion dollar broadcasting industry, the NAB is without a doubt the most powerful lobbying organization in the United States. It directly controls which politician gets the most face time before the public, thus, the NAB calls both the tune and the dance.

When the FCC’s initial attempt to silence Free Radio Berkeley with a preliminary court injunction failed in January, 1995 the NAB declared open war on micropower broadcasters - urging its members to report any unlicensed broadcasting to the FCC. It was amusing to see these media giants falling into histrionic fits of apoplexy over small community broadcast stations with power levels under 100 watts taking to the airwaves by the dozens. According to the NAB, planes would fall from the sky and the very core of the empire was under attack. Wrongly or rightly, many people interpreted the rejection of the preliminary injunction against Free Radio Berkeley as a green light to put their stations on the air.

During the year prior to the first broadcast of Free Radio Berkeley, legal strategy was being developed and fine-tuned to respond to the likely response and intervention by the FCC. Attorneys from the National Lawyers Guild Committee on Democratic Communications (NLGCDC) had prepared initial briefs to defend Mbanna Kantako. Enlisted to support Free Radio Berkeley, the NLGCDC continued to refine the legal arguments and conduct further research. Drawing on variety of sources, including case law and international covenants, the attorneys put together an impressive legal argument for micropower broadcasting and Free Radio.

One key thesis maintained that if the government was going to restrict Free Speech activity it had to do it in the least restrictive means possible, otherwise the government was acting unconstitutionally. By prohibiting community broadcast stations operating with 100 watts or less of power from being on the air, the FCC was restricting Free Speech. Further, by creating a regulatory process with an extremely high cost for entry into the realm of applying for and securing a broadcast license, the FCC created an artificially high barrier that only the wealthiest could scale. Citing Article 19, section 2 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, “Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice”, NLGCDC attorneys finished off with an appropriate capstone to their work. When Free Radio Berkeley went on the air, the FCC was unaware a legal bear trap had been baited, awaiting their first step.

To avoid being shut down by the FCC, Free Radio Berkeley began broadcasting from the Berkeley Hills every Sunday evening for 3-4 hours. Operating with battery-powered transmitters and broadcast equipment carted about in an external frame pack, FRB carried on in true guerilla fashion for a period of several years until the denial of the preliminary injunction placed the situation under jurisdiction of the court and out of the FCC’s hands. Within 6 weeks of the initial court hearing Free Radio Berkeley emerged as a 24/7 community broadcast station situated in a stripped out bathroom on the second floor of a house on the Oakland/Berkeley border.

From the very beginning, it was apparent the Free Radio Movement needed more than cogent legal arguments, no matter how compelling. Unlike other movements, it had to go beyond just mass numbers willing to engage in direct action. It needed technology to make the broadcasts possible. At that time low cost broadcast equipment and the knowledge to use it properly were very hard to obtain. Free Radio Berkeley’s founder, Stephen Dunifer, recognized this weakness. As someone skilled in electronic and broadcast engineering, he designed and built the first transmitters used by FRB. Further, these designs evolved into a series of kits manufactured and sold by FRB. Workshops and training sessions began to be offered by FRB to empower people with the knowledge and skills to build their own transmitters and set up broadcast stations. Merging inexpensive DIY electronic broadcast technology with political and social action gave rise to a new concept – electronic civil disobedience. Not only were people defying unjust laws with their bodies, they were doing it with transmitters in their hands - a strategy that fired the imaginations of many and boggled the minds of both the FCC and NAB.

Not prepared to deal with a burgeoning swarm of guerilla radio activity, the FCC and NAB relied on the sledge hammer approach, a tactical misstep that only served to raise the stature of Free Radio in the court of public opinion. Of the many articles appearing in both the mainstream and alternative press, nary a discouraging word was said about Free Radio. Despite, in one instance, the highly choreographed display of police power with multi-jurisdictional SWAT teams engaging in pre-dawn raids with automatic weapons drawn in Tampa, Florida – the movement continued unabated.

On the legal front, despite winning every procedural issue, Federal Judge Claudia Wilken issued an injunction against Free Radio Berkeley after the FCC submitted its second motion for summary judgement. Judge Wilken's ruling rested on rather obscure technical grounds and logic of the Lewis Carroll variety. She stated Free Radio Berkeley did not have legal grounds to challenge the FCC’s authority because no application had been made for a broadcast license. An odd ruling since an application process for the type of community broadcast station Free Radio Berkeley had become did not exist. It was the suspicion of many that the judge had been influenced by the powers-to-be. During the entire course of the 4-year legal battle the FCC failed to respond in any substantive manner to the legal arguments raised in the defense of Free Radio Berkeley

Despite the silencing of Free Radio Berkeley in June 1998, the Free Radio movement continued. Court cases involving other micropower stations such as Steal This Radio in NYC did not result in the vindication of Free Radio. From the very beginning it was understood the probability of success in the Federal Court system was low. However, by being present in such high-visibilty venues, the status, credibility and visibility of the Free Radio Movement reached a height unobtainable by other means.

Faced with an ungovernable situation and enforcement nightmare created by the Free Radio Movement and increasing public pressure, the FCC was forced to take some sort of action. Eventually, in January 1999 they issued a rule making process establishing a very limited low power FM broadcast service (LPFM). Viewed by many within the micropower community as a form of damage control and a divide and conquer strategy, this LPFM service only allowed the establishment of low power stations in rural communities due to overly stringent channel spacing requirements.

Even given the limited nature of LPFM it was immediately opposed by both the National Association of Broadcasters and National Public Radio. As a result of intense lobbying efforts by both, Congress passed a bill (ironically titled: The Broadcast Preservation Act of 1999) to severely curtail an already limited service. The NLGCDC responded to the initial LPFM rule making proceedings and has been instrumental in assisting with the LPFM application process. Several former micropower broadcasters lowered their black flag of radio anarchism and formed the Prometheus Project to aid LPFM applicants, organize “barn raisers” to put community stations on the air, lobby for expansion of the LPFM broadcast service and oppose further media consolidation by direct legal intervention.

Despite the historical revisionism promulgated by elements within the LPFM community and media reform circles, the rapidly growing movement of electronic civil disobedience by the Free Radio Movement forced the FCC to create the LPFM broadcast service and put the ownership and control of the airwaves on the national agenda. Divide and conquer was definitely on the FCC's agenda as it sought to divide the Free Radio Movement into: “good pirates” (folks who had hung up their skull and crossbones and broadswords) who were swayed by the rather hollow promise of obtaining a license sometime in the distant future; and “bad pirates” who were not tempted by the siren song of legitimization.

Aware of both the limitations of the legal low power route (LPFM) being offered and the legal risks involved, individuals and communities continue to establish Free Radio stations. Not satisfied with the crumbs swept from the FCC regulatory table and wary of pitfalls and compromises associated with being licensed, proponents of Free Radio continue their struggle to liberate the broadcast commons from corporate domination and control.

“Secondly, In that we begin to Digge upon George-Hill, to eate our Bread together by righteous labour, and sweat of our browes, It was shewed us by Vision in Dreams, and out of Dreams, That that should be the Place we should begin upon; And though that Earth in view of Flesh, be very barren, yet we should trust the Spirit for a blessing. And that not only this Common, or Heath should be taken in and Manured by the People, but all the Commons and waste Ground in England, and in the whole World, shall be taken in by the People in righteousness, not owning any Propriety; but taking the Earth to be a Common Treasury, as it was first made for all.”

Gerrard Windstanley – The True Levelers Standard Advanced: Or, the State of Community Opened, and Presented to the Sons of Man (1649)

Within the last 500 or so years, there has been a steady encroachment, usually at sword point or musket muzzle, upon the commons by an alliance of private interests, capital and the state. Enslaving mostly indigenous populations and transforming public resources into sources of extractive profit and tossing the resulting pollution back into the common sphere, the Frankenstinian masters of this endeavor view the world through a pecuniary lens of self-interest, exploitation, greed, entitlement and self-aggrandizement - mistaking the lens for the world itself.

The Free Radio Movement seeks to: tear down the regulatory and statutory fences enclosing the broadcast commons ; stomp the “No Trespassing” signs into the mud; and expose the hypocrisy of the FCC which has failed miserably to impose any notion of public trusteeship on the broadcast industry.

By exposing the theft of the broadcast airwaves, the wider takeover of the entire commons on which the wellbeing of the people and the planet depend becomes readily apparent. Replacing the filters imposed by Fox, ABC, NBC, et al by a genuine form of communication amongst communities empowers and encourages people to take matters into their own hands.

Communication denied to a community is in fact a death sentence, sometimes literally. Consider these two examples of alternative outcomes

Anne Elizabeth Moore cites the failure of commercial radio to meet an urgent, life-threatening community disaster in this passage of a 2005 issue of Punk Planet: “In 2002, an ammonia tanker derailed in Minot, North Dakota. Residents and authorities alike tried in vain to get a hold of an actual human broadcaster at six local Clear Channel affiliated stations to warn listeners of the danger in going outdoors. Unfortunately, these stations play mostly satellite feeds, and no one answered the telephone that day for an hour and half. One man died and pets and livestock were killed. Over 300 or more people were hospitalized with injuries and partial blindness.”

Contrast that with the efforts of KIND Radio, a Free Radio Station that operated in San Marcos, Texas. During a hundred year flood in 1998, KIND radio was the only broadcast source information source for the community. People stranded on rooftops called the station to ask for help. Rescue teams listening to the station were thus informed as to where their assistance was required. Further, they informed folks where they could go for relief and what areas were flooded. No licensed broadcast station provided this life-saving service to the San Marcos community.

Or consider more recent events.

In the aftermath of hurricane Katrina, efforts to establish a low power broadcast station in the Houston Astrodome were thwarted by FEMA officials despite being granted a temporary license to do so by the FCC. Organizers had to rent a trailer and set up the station in the parking lot. Several efforts have been made to establish a Free Radio station in the Algiers section of New Orleans to aid in the reconstruction and revitalization of that community. As expected, these efforts for community autonomy and media empowerment have been thwarted by the FCC.

Only locally organized and controlled community broadcast stations have the power to speak to the needs of the community, allowing people to share their news, information, culture, artistic expression and needs with one another. The power of the Internet to link community broadcast stations with one another on a global level through Independent Media Centers and other related endeavors leads to the creation of a meta-community that is both global and local in its reach and scope.

Through the communicative power of radio and collective action, people and their respective communities gain the ability and power to reclaim and restore an authentic life.

“The spectacle grasped in its totality is both the result and the project of the existing mode of production. It is not a supplement to the real world, an additional decoration. It is the heart of the unrealism of the real society. In all its specific forms, as information or propaganda, as advertisement or direct entertainment consumption, the spectacle is the present model of socially dominant life. It is the omnipresent affirmation of the choice already made in production and its corollary consumption. The spectacle's form and content are identically the total justification of the existing system's conditions and goals. The spectacle is also the permanent presence of this justification, since it occupies the main part of the time lived outside of modern production.”

Guy-Ernest Debord - The Society of the Spectacle

Reducing everyone and everything to a commodity, either a black or red mark on the ledger of the marketplace is to condemn the world to an atomized, existentialist hell. The function of media in the United States is to create and maintain a hyper-saturated propaganda environment domestically and an ongoing campaign of media imperialism abroad - carpet bombing the human psyche with an endless stream of advertising and spectacle, intent on destroying-self-esteem, self-identity and self-worth.

Buy this, be that – it is all a distraction to steal time, body and soul. Divide and conquer on a grand scale. A Potemkin dance of light and shadow.

Embracing Free Radio as a form of media expression that is genuine and real is the first step on the road to liberation from the society of the spectacle. Only by coming together as communities can people begin to: form the relationships that really matter, tell the stories which impart a collective identity, history and purpose; dance, sing and celebrate life together; and forge new bonds of commitment and support. Free Radio is the Peoples Drum.

It is against this backdrop that the Free Radio Movement now stands. As an integral part of a global alternative media movement it offers people and their communities the means to reject the dominant narrative imposed by state and capital.

For further information please contact Free Radio Berkeley or visit the websites – http://www.freeradio.org and http://www.radiotupa.org

Free Radio Berkeley
1442A Walnut St. #406
Berkeley, CA 94709
freeradio [at] riseup.net

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Attack on Indigenous Community Recorded


This is a report from Mario Murillo:
As the mass popular mobilization in Cauca and the rest of Colombia continues, the government of Alvaro Uribe finally addressed the five point agenda of the Popular and Indigenous Minga, a small step forward after over a week of intense military confrontations with the protesters. Yesterday, just before indigenous and peasant communities were about to begin their long march towards the city of Cali, the Minister of Agriculture, Andrés Felipe Arias, finally recognized the points in the name of the national government, albeit in a superficial and roundabout way.

This initial recognition of the five points has been superceded today, Wednesday, as the Minister of Defense, Juan Manuel Santos, continued to point out that the indigenous protesters were the violent ones who were “firing on Colombian special police forces” during last week's confrontations on the Pan American highway.

While on the one hand, the government claims it is willing to resolve this problem, arguing that it will "buy some lands" in order to keep the people quiet, they continue with their harsh accusations and unconciliatory tone, consistent with the last six years of the Uribe Administration.

So as the popular march moves forward – with people from all over the south converging on Santander de Quilichao today - bringing together indigenous and peasants with sugar cane workers and Afro-Colombian communities who will march for the next several days towards Cali, it is important to keep in mind the very important message the Popular Minga is putting forward to the entire nation.

In a sense, it’s a very detailed response to the many distortions that continue to make their way through the corporate media filters about what it actually is that the communities are calling for.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Community Media Forum in DC

The Latin American and Hemispheric Studies Program and the School of Media and Public Affairs at George Washington University present
“Best practices and principles for democratic regulation of community radio and television in Latin America”

Wednesday, October 29, 2008 12:30-2:00pm
Department of Government, Monroe Building Room 428
2115 G Street, N.W. George Washington University

Eduardo Bertoni, Due Process of Law Foundation
Aleida Calleja, World Association of Community Radio
Damián Loreti, Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales and Universidad de Buenos Aires
Darian Pavli, Open Society Institute
The presenters will discuss findings of a cross-national, comparative study that identified best practices in legislation and public policies to promote community radio

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Government's Propaganda vs. Indigenous Media Perspectives

Achi Bedea, the virtual radio voice of ONIC (www.onic.org.co)

Saturday, October 18, 2008
Media Representations of Popular Mobilizations Ignore the Movement'sMessage
By Mario A. Murillo (Bogotá, Colombia)

Six days into the Indigenous and Popular Mobilizations in Cauca (and the rest of Colombia), and it is fair to say that the propaganda war is well underway. And so far, it looks like the government of Alvaro Uribe is winning.

On Friday, the President held another press conference stating that they had “clear evidence” that the mass popular protest in Cauca was being controlled by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, FARC. The Commander of the National Police, General Óscar Naranjo, stated unequivocally that the Sixth Front of FARC was behind the disturbances. And at the Palacio Nariño, the Minister of Social Protection, Diego Palacio, stated, with a straight face, “the government continues to respect social protest and mobilization, as long as it is for civil causes,” adding that the sugar cane workers strike and the indigenous mobilizations of the past few days contain the presence of “destabilizing forces.”

These words are echoing throughout the media as I write this, and will undoubtedly go on for hours on the radio and TV broadcasts, as well as the websites of RCN and Caracol, the two mega-giants of Colombia’s mass-commercial media. The government’s claims are also among the top stories in the front-page of El Tiempo, and other major national and regional newspapers, and it has almost become conventional wisdom in the last few days because of the capacity of the Uribe Administration to set the agenda, present its arguments to domestic journalists with indignation and authority, and come off as the victim once again.

And the indigenous movement’s demands for justice are set aside as they face off against the Colombian Army and Police in La Maria, while their leaders are forced to deny the charges directed against them by those in authority. Who do you believe?

Looking over the last few days of news coverage on some of the major news sources, the imbalance of perspectives is unbelievable. On Friday alone, I scoured through over 25 news articles and dispatches on the websites of RCN, Caracol, El Tiempo, El Liberal and Noticias Uno, the first three being the media of record in the country, with a massive reach that is unchallenged, the latter two representing a local newspaper from southern Colombia, and an independent, national news channel that provides some of the most comprehensive investigative reporting in all of Colombia. Naturally, many other media are covering the developments in the south, and it will take some time to filter through it all.

What was most telling of this brief scan of these news media outlets was the wide array of sources that were cited providing the government’s perspective, and the very few voices that were cited providing that of the indigenous movement. President Uribe, General Naranjo, Minister Palacio, as well as the director of the DAS, Colombia’s equivalent of the FBI, María del Pilar Hurtado, were quoted repeatedly throughout the sample, stating again and again how they have exposed this nefarious plan to topple the Uribe government, manifested in both the sugar cane workers strike and the indigenous protests.

Hurtado was quoted in one report in El Tiempo saying that “the cane workers strike in Valle del Cauca and Cauca contained the participation of foreigners who were looking to destabilize the government,” without providing any names or other evidence. The accusations about the FARC’s role in the indigenous protests appeared in 19 of the 25 articles I collected in this limited period, with at least ten not even presenting the indigenous community’s response (I should point out that as I was going through these news articles, I had Caracol Radio turned on in my desk, and over a period of about two hours, the same correspondent reporting from the Presidential Press conference came on at least four times, with dramatic soundbites from the President and Minister Palacio). No doubt, the government’s message was getting out through its communication channels.

On the other hand, the sources used from the indigenous movement were very limited. The one voice that was heard/quoted again and again was that of Daniel Piñacué, a Nasa leader from Belalcázar, in Tierradentro, Cauca, who has a long history in the indigenous movement, but who was not one of the principal organizers of the mobilization. He was quoted in several of the articles in this small sample, stating “that the mobilization will continue,” and that “we will continue to respect the authorities, while they provoke us.” On several occasions he denied the accusations about FARC infiltration in the movement, but only after the case was already made by several of the above-mentioned government officials.

On several reports from RCN Radio we heard the voice of Daniel Piñacué’s brother, Jesus, one of the most visible indigenous personalities in the country, having served on the Senate for several terms. Only in one report, notably on Noticias UNO, did a voice representing the Association of Indigenous Councils of Northern Cauca, ACIN, come through in the coverage, a significant oversight given that ACIN was one of the main organizations behind the protest. They and CRIC, the Regional Indigenous Council of Cauca, have been putting out communiqués and reports for weeks about the march, and have been calling on the government to meet with them to discuss their demands, but to no avail.

Meanwhile, the entire narrative contained within the press coverage of the past several days remained stuck on the battles unfolding on the Pan American highway, and who was to blame for the violence. Television images have shown the army and police using gunfire, which in a sense refutes the government’s claims that no live fire has been used on the protesters. But again, commanders on the ground have been given top priority, presented as the voice of reason against a horde of indigenous protesters running wild.

The coverage has been fundamentally about the violence, while the underlying reasons for the mobilization have been relegated to the trash bin of history. The concerns and demands of the popular movement were made completely irrelevant. It is difficult to imagine that the media workers covering this story are not even partially aware of the issues the communities are raising in the protests, but in some of the coverage the ignorance comes across loud and clear. For example, in one report in El Tiempo, which to its credit was about the International Federation of Human Rights’ criticism of Uribe’s handling of the protests, the author states: “The Indians initiated the encounter last week in commemoration of 516 years since the discovery of America, what they call the displacement.”

Nowhere in the piece, or in any other articles I tracked in this sample, were the five points being put forth by the indigenous movement mentioned, even in passing. If even a fraction of the movement’s fundamental concerns were made known to the public in the reporting, and the fact that their main purpose for the mobilization was to start a dialogue with the government about these concerns, the repressive response from the government to the protests probably would have been a lot clearer – and indeed much more intolerable- for the average viewer.

The movement is not remaining silent, but very few media are really paying close attention to what they’re saying. If one were to read from the missive the “Popular Minga” released on Thursday, their arguments are pretty clear and make perfect sense within the current context. For example, in response to the constant accusations that FARC is behind the movement, they write: “Let us be clear: If there are Indians involved in the insurgency, or any other armed group, it is a personal decision of theirs that goes against our organizational and community process.”

The communiqués and the actions of the movement have always taken a position of autonomy vis a vis the guerillas. The ACIN and CRIC have publicly denounced FARC for its incursions into its territories. Nevertheless, the Uribe government continues to make the unsubstantiated link in an attempt to avoid any dialogue with the communities. This fact does not come through in any of the coverage whatsoever, leaving the audience in a permanent state of being misinformed.

Taking it a step further, the indigenous movement is always trying to make the point about the “dark forces” behind the current regime, something that the news media consistently overlook. The same government that accuses the movement of being manipulated by FARC is in many ways illegitimate in the eyes of the popular movement, as they expressed clearly in their missive released on Thursday. Perhaps one day we will see the news media echo these claims as often as they present the charges of the government against the movement:
“The majority of the members of Congress that support the government of President Uribe, those legislators who have elaborated and approved the laws that displace us of our rights and our liberties, occupy their official spaces with the backing of paramilitary groups, and are involved in the Para-politics scandal currently under investigation. Neither they nor the laws they have approved have any degree of legitimacy.”

The reasons for the protests, which are based on a profound critique, not only of the current government but of the entire system itself, are not elaborated on in the media coverage for the obvious reason that it goes against the interests of those same media, and the political class they serve.

A lot has been written about how the commercial mass information and cultural industries continue to perpetuate profound myths about Colombian democracy and society. This is done on several levels, most prominently in the way reporters, editors, commentators and the like accept the institutional definitions provided by official sources to frame the so-called fringes of society. For generations, this marginalization has also been manifest in the way state institutions have limited the spaces whereby these dissenting community voices may be heard, although precisely because of the years of organizing around media and democracy, this latter approach has been curtailed considerably. Colombia, despite its very fragile democratic institutions, has a long tradition of community, citizen's based media projects that consistently challenge the corporate media.

The indigenous communities currently mobilizing throughout the country around five basic points have their own media channels, and are utilizing them extensively as the current crisis unfolds. There are 26 indigenous radio stations around the country licensed as public interests broadcasters, plus a constellation of other smaller, low-power community stations broadcasting to local indigenous communities.

In the department of Cauca, the indigenous media are perhaps the most effective and well organized, particularly that of the ACIN, whose communication network includes one public interest station in Santander de Quilichao, two community stations – one in Toribio and the other in Jambaló – a smaller, low-power station in Canoas, plus a video production team and an elaborate website (www.nasa_acin.org). The National Indigenous Organization of Colombia, ONIC, also has its own website, which includes a virtual radio station, Achi Bedea, which for the last several days has been streaming the voices of indigenous activists from every region of the country.

These and other indigenous media outlets are linked to the broader network of national, alternative media, such as IndyMedia-Colombia, SICO, SIPAZ, La Red de Prensa Alternativa del Sur del País, among many others. They have been working feverishly in the last week to present an alternative narrative to the corporate media.

In many respects, they have been successful in gathering support on an international level, and getting NGOs and other human rights groups to pay attention. I would argue they have not been as successful in getting progressive and independent media outlets in the U.S. to pay attention. Unlike developments in Oaxaca a few years ago, which received considerable coverage by the independent media movement up north, this latest struggle in Colombia is barely on the radar screen of media such as Democracy Now, Pacifica Radio and Alter-Net, media that are completely caught up with the presidential campaign in the U.S. In this regard, the alternative media movement and the social sectors they represent here in Colombia has a long way to go in terms of penetrating the agenda of like-minded folks in the U.S.

The bigger question at the moment is whether or not the indigenous community and alternative radio stations and media networks in Colombia can counter-act the damaging effects of the mainstream media’s overwhelming tendency to give an unfiltered voice to the official authorities, especially on radio and on television news. It is part of a pattern that has gone on for many years in the Colombian news media that is not easy to break.

When it comes to coverage and representation of indigenous communities, the tendency of the mass communication media has been consistent: they either ignore the communities by making them invisible, clump them all together in a process of homogenization, thereby negating their diversity and complexity, or present them as nothing more than passive actors, the poor, defenseless victims of an unjust system – “el pobre indio.” There is also the more benevolent yet equally harmful tendency of celebrating their exotic-ness, embracing the novelty of their different forms of dressing, their spiritual and healing practices, or their internal justice system, without really understanding the significance of each.Radio host of Voces de Nuestra Tierra, community radio in Jambaló, Cauca, promoting the mobilization two days before its start.

Meanwhile, when the communities take matters into their own hands in acts of massive protest and mobilization, as they are currently doing, the dominant media usually represent these situations as acts of criminality, emphasizing their tendency to break the law–block highways, occupy territory “illegally,” etc.–as a way to address their grievances. The unsubstantiated association with “dark forces of terror,” meaning the FARC guerillas, becomes the accepted message that is very difficult to refute for the people directly involved in the confrontations.

These faulty patterns of media coverage leave the audience with the perennial question, why would people behave like this if they can employ the legitimate instruments of the democratic system to promote their interests and seek redress from the dominant society? I’ve heard it repeated by many people here in Colombia, even those one would normally consider to be enlightened: “Those Indians in Cauca are always looking for trouble, and they constantly want more.”

The current backlash against indigenous organizations that are on the upswing under the Uribe administration has made it much more difficult for the movement to put forward its message of social transformation through peaceful means to the broader public, especially through mainstream channels. This is connected to the fact that, with very few exceptions, the Colombian mass media rarely if ever represent the complex organizational structures of indigenous communities, characterized by deliberative consensus building, grassroots participation, and leadership accountability.

All of this should not be surprising, given the institutional structures that have for decades characterized the Colombian media, structures specifically put in place by very powerful private and state interests who are naturally threatened by the kinds of issues being raised by the communities and their allies in the popular movement. I’ll have more on this in a future post.

Luis Evelis Andrade, president of ONIC, with Roberto Cobaria, U'Wa council of chiefs, at ONIC press conference on October 15th.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Indigenous Association Website is Shut Down in Colombia

The website of ACIN, the Association of Indigenous Councils of Northern Cauca, has been shut down, limiting their ability to communicate to the world about on-going clashes with special forces police in the area. There are reports of several wounded indigenous activists in La Maria, where the communities have been mobilized since Sunday, as well as reports of two deaths.
Activists are asking people to contact the Colombia government representatives to protest this censorship. For the present, information can be obtained at the CRIC web site: http://www.cric-colombia.org
Nos han bloqueado www.nasaacin.org . Por favor sigan insistiendo y exijan que el Estado colombiano respete el
derecho a la comunicación. Estamos subiendo la información que podemos a la página del CRIC www.cric-colombia.org.

Por favor publiquen y reenvíen todo lo que reciban de nosotros para que no nos silencien, mientras nos masacran.
Tejido de Comunicación y Relaciones Externas para la
Verdad y la Vida
Asociación de Cabildos Indígenas del Norte del Cauca -
Telefax: 0928 - 290958 - 293999
Email: acincauca@yahoo.es
Web: www.nasaacin.org
Santander de Quilichao Cauca -Colombia

From Mario Murillo:
As I write this, over 12,000 indigenous activists and representatives of other popular and social sectors of southern Colombia are urgently congregating in the “Territory of Peace and Coexistence” in La Maria Piendamó, in Cauca, confronting a massive presence of state security forces who have been ordered to dislodge them.

The popular mobilization began on October 12th, and was called to protest the militarization of their territories, the US-Colombia Free Trade Agreement, and the failure of the government of President Alvaro Uribe to fulfill various accords with the indigenous communities relating to land, education, and health.

On Monday, as expected, the communities participating in the indigenous protest blocked a portion of the Pan American Highway that connects the cities of Popayán and Santander de Quilichao, in the department of Cauca, in an act of civil disobedience meant to force the government to meet with them to discuss some of their demands.

Instead, what we’ve seen over the last two days are serious confrontations between special-forces police units and the communities assembled, with several indigenous activists severely wounded, one possibly fatally, in the ensuing clashes. These unfolding developments come just days after two other Nasa Indians – Nicolás Valencia Lemus and Celestino Rivera - were assassinated by unidentified gunmen late Saturday night and into Sunday morning, a few hours before the start of the mobilization, bringing the total number of indigenous activists killed in the last three weeks throughout Colombia to 11.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

European Congress of Women in Community Radio

Viernes 17 de octubre
Lugar: Conde Duque. C/ Conde Duque, 11

9.00 Recepción - acreditaciones
9.30 -10.00 Inauguración

Rosa Peris: Directora del Instituto de la Mujer
Laura López de Cerain Salsamendi. Directora General de la Dirección de
Inmigración y Cooperación al Desarrollo del Ayto. de Madrid
Lucía Ruíz: Coordinadora del Área de la Mujer de Radio Vallekas

Sally Burch: directora ejecutiva de la Agencia Latinoamericana de Información (ALAI)
Mavic Cabrera Balleza: Vice presidenta de la Red Internacional de Mujeres de AMARC (Asociación Mundial de Radios Comunitarias)
Lourdes Muñoz de Santa María: diputada del grupo socialista, portavoz de la Comisión de Sociedad de la Información y vocal de la Comisión de Igualdad
Margaretta D’Arcy: Representante de la Red de Mujeres de AMARC Europa

Modera: Lourdes Urquillas, periodista de la Agencia EFE, integrante de la red de Mujeres Periodistas de Madrid

11.30 - 12.00 Pausa café

Lola Pérez: vocalía de la mujer de la Unión de Radios Libres y Comunitarias de Madrid
Geneviève Teyssier: Vicepresidenta del Sindicato Nacional Francés de Radios Libres
Grupo de legislación de la Red Estatal de Medios Comunitarios

Modera: Esther de la Rosa, Área de la Mujer de Radio Vallekas

14.00 - 15.30 COMIDA

Bárbara Lena Kenny: Onda Rossa, (Italia)
Mercedes Ruiz-Giménez Aguilar, Secretaria General de la
Asociación de Investigación y Especialización sobre Temas Iberoamericanos (AIETI)
Begoña San José: Secretaria del Forum de Política Feminista
Mechthild Dortmund: Radio Flora (Alemania)

Modera: Celia Garrido, Asociación Nosotras en el Mundo


Radio Paka (Barcelona)
Irene Rodríguez: Radio Lora (Suiza)
Josefina Juste: Radio Klara y presidenta de Mujeres en Movimiento (Valencia)
Charo Contreras: Área de la Mujer de Radio Enºlace (Madrid)
Ángela Rodríguez: Área de Mayores de Radio Vallekas (Madrid)

Modera: Clara Urbano, Área de la Mujer de Radio Enlace

18.30 – 18.45 Pausa café

Ulla Ebner: Radio Orange (Austria)
Milagros Fernández: Radio Studión (Suecia)
Jeanette Mauricio: Radio Vallekas, proyecto Red Nosotras en el Mundo (España-Argentina)
Nilda Diarte: Asociación Mujeres del Mundo (Bilbao)
Modera: Isabel Canas, Área de la Mujer de OMC Radio

Sábado 18 de octubre
Lugar: Hostal Persal, Plaza del Ángel, 12

10.00- 11.30 Participación y propuestas de mujeres en la Asociación Mundial de Radios Comunitarias: Mavic Cabrera-Balleza
11.30 – 11.45 Descanso
12.00 – 14.00 Grupos de trabajo Dinamizadora: Claudia Villamayor, AMARC-ALC
14.00 – 15.30 COMIDA
15.30 – 19.30 Grupos de trabajo (continuación)
19.30 – 20.30 Plenaria
21.00 – Clausura y cóctel