Turn on your transistors, reconnect your analogues, and fiddle your dials: World Radio Day 2014 is upon us.
Seeking to “raise awareness about the importance of radio, facilitate access to information through radio, and enhance networking among broadcasters,” 13th February 2014 celebrates UNESCO’s World Radio Day. A day to celebrate radio, to encourage all networks to reach out to their listeners, and a day for all communities to enjoy this low cost medium of communication and information.
But in Argentina, the radio waves are in a crucial stage of transition, or even a tussle, after the passing of the Audiovisual Communication Services Law, in 2009. A law designed to fairly spread the influence of media, to help develop the less powerful areas of it, thus making it more democratic, but, fundamentally, to recognise communication as a human right. So we’re taking World Radio Day as an opportunity to see how the community radios have progressed since the implementation of the law.
Community Radio Stations in Argentina
Community radio stations began to emerge in Argentina in the mid-’80s, as a powerful tool enabling communities to have their own independent voice. Since its emergence, there have been two social organisations that have been instrumental in the development of the community radio network: the World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters Argentina (AMARC) and the Argentine Forum of Community Radios (FARCO).
FARCO defines community radio as follows:
“Radio stations that practise radio broadcasting as a community service and see communication as a universal right. That seek to build a common path to support one another and strengthen our peoples’ communication. Radio stations that see themselves as an integral part of the community in which they participate. That exercise the right to communication and, particularly, the right to information. That exercise radio broadcasting as a service, and not simply as a commercially profitable activity. Unlike private commercial radio stations, they do not pursue profits.”
And, in 2004, after a substantial network of community radio stations had been established, a collection of social organisations, universities, unions, and human rights organisations formed the Coalition for Democratic Broadcasting to start up a dialogue and to push for the democratisation of broadcasting. Mariela Pugliese, president of FARCO, recalls: “The creation of the Coalition brought together all the old struggles to start to discuss, among all the different sectors, what was the common goal. The democratisation of the word was out of the question, and so was the participation of the non-profit sectors, as opposed to the neoliberal and mercantilist conceptions of communication.”
The New Law
Once the dialogue was established, the Coalition decided upon 21 points that they presented to the Argentine government in anticipation of a new law. And finally, after many discussion forums and public hearings, the Argentine congress passed the new legislation, known as Audiovisual Communication Services Law (LSCA).
Heavily influenced by the 21 points put forward by the Coalition, the law looked to restrict the influence of the main media conglomerates, and to develop the non-profit and public sectors by allocating a greater share of the airwaves (33% for non-profit media, of which community radio is part of) and by supplying some resources for their development. In addition to this, the law created the Federal Administration of Audiovisual Communication (AFSCA), a government body whose aim is to guarantee the right to communication. Pugliese proudly explains: “In a global system where the means of communication are represented by economic power, and which set the public agenda, the LSCA in Argentina has become one of the milestones in the democratic process in our country in the last decade. It was a fight and a victory that empowered those that participated in it.”
Implementation of the Law
However, four and a half years down the line, the law has yet to deliver on all of its promises, while other challenges have also emerged.
One of the biggest problems has been the allocation of 33% of the airwaves to non-profit media. As Rafa López Binaghi, from popular Buenos Aires community radio station FM La Tribu, points out, “there isn’t a clear technical plan put in place to correctly allocate the airwaves. Without it, without knowing what that 100% is, how could we know how much 33% is?”
A clear technical plan, which properly categorises the airwaves, and then begins to allocate the frequencies legally and fairly, would help solve this problem. Pugliese adds: “The LSCA included the creation of a technical plan for the whole of Argentina, but they are yet to do this. The timeframe in which they said that they would do this has passed, so it is something they owe us.”
Without this plan, it has proved almost impossible to ensure that 33% of the airwaves are reserved for non-profit media. It has also resulted in conflicts between radio stations in the places where the number of existing stations far exceeds the available frequencies.
Which leads on to the second major challenge of the new law: the over-saturation of the airwaves. López Binaghi explains: “There is an over-saturation of the airwaves in all of the big cities in Argentina. This is because nobody knows whose frequency is whose, which has resulted in many conflicts for the airwaves. Also it means that it is hard to hear the stations correctly, because it’s difficult to broadcast with such saturation.” Again, it is expected that once a technical plan is established, there will be a clearer mechanism for establishing who can use which frequency, and the conflicts can begin to be resolved.
One of the 21 original points that were not included in the law is the regulation of how government advertisement is distributed. López Binaghi explains that, due to this omission, “the government has continued to give more money to the private radio stations,” and the way this advertisement is distributed continues to be arbitrary.
However, there is another method of resource distribution written into the LSCA, known as FOMECA (Development Fund for Non-Profit Audiovisual Media). FOMECA collects 10% of the total amount of taxes collected from media advertisement, which is then distributed out to non-profit radio stations. Unfortunately, during the first three years after the law was passed no money was distributed. Last year, however, for the first time, some money started to be given out through FOMECA. “For three years it wasn’t given out, so we asked, and they started to give a little. Then they told us that they would increase it this year, and they have, by almost three times last year’s amount. It still isn’t quite the amount they promised, but the truth is that they said they would distribute more money, and now they are. We have an excellent dialogue with the government, and so they do listen to what we say,” says Pugliese.
The Future Looks… Brighter
So, what can be concluded about the progression of community radio since the new law was passed in 2009? Overall, the changes have not been as far reaching as was expected, and hoped. The airwaves are still over-saturated, community radio has not officially taken control of 33% of the airwaves, and the resources are yet to be fairly distributed.
But it is certainly not all bad. The law represented a turning point in Argentine media politics, as for the first time it has given non-profit media organisations a clear legal voice. The creation of AFSCA gives community radios a government body to deal with directly, and is a means for distributing resources -even if it has not performed this function perfectly. And pressure to create the long-awaited technical plan is increasing, which will hopefully result in the resolving of frequency conflicts and of over-saturation of airwaves.
Pugliese is optimistic about the future of community radio. “Being considered by the law, being subject to public policies, and influencing those policies, shows we are building something. Something we can show without fear, something real. It has changed the way we think about communication, a change from the capitalist way of thinking, and a change in Argentine history. It is going to take time, but we are in a good position.”