Immokalee Workers/Radio Consciencia testimony on media ownership

[via Prometheus Radio Project]

My thanks to the Commissioners for inviting me here. My name is Gerardo Reyes Chavez. I am a farmworker, living in Immokalee, Florida. I am here to describe how important a local and accessible media system is to farmworkers – and to demand that the FCC not just stop the consolidation of media ownership, but expand and protect the truly local media we need to survive.

For a community like ours that has few economic resources and faces daily violations of our human rights, it is difficult to have access to commercially-controlled media most of the time. In the past, when we wanted our community to hear an important message about their basic rights, we had to pay for time on the air and only when the commercial station wanted to grant us that time.

Media consolidation risks thousands of workers' lives. Many farmworkers indigenous languages like M'am, Q'anjob'al, Haitian Creole, and many times Spanish is our second language.. However, like everyone we need the media to reach us when danger comes. Farmworkers often live in trailers, are often frightened but confused when storms move through – and they cannot understand the warnings coming their way on the radio, especially if they don't speak fluent English or Spanish. The smaller communities where farmworkers live, like Immokalee, lose detailed coverage in favor of larger markets like Naples, Tampa, or Ft. Myers.

In 2003 we built our own low power FM community radio station. Radio Consciencia, or WCIW-LP – broadcasts at 107.9 in Immokalee. While most workers have little access to the Internet, newspapers, or television, Radio Consciencia gives Immokalee a voice and provides our community with the information it needs.

When Hurricane Wilma hit Immokalee in 2005, we realized the deep value of Radio Conciencia. All local radio stations were transmitting alerts on the impending hurricane, but Radio Conciencia was the only radio that was transmitting information on where to go and what to do in Spanish and in the indigenous languages spoken in our community. Many of the farmworkers had to work in the fields as the hurricane approached and did not return home until transportation to shelters being provided by Collier County had stopped running. When people were confused about what was happening they were able to contact us at the radio station to find out the current situation, the imperative of evacuating trailers, and where to find shelter. Radio Conciencia received so many calls from people who were stranded in trailers that we knew the unmet needs of our community. We mobilized 2 vans and transported over 350 people to shelter until late into the night. After the storm we saw that several of the trailers in the camps from which we evacuated people had been completely destroyed. After the storm Radio Conciencia continued to transmit information after the storm on where to find food and water and safety measures to take. By this time the County had realized the importance of Radio Conciencia to the community and had loaned us a generator so that we could continue to communicate these important messages in the aftermath of the storm. This is just one example of the many times Radio Conciencia has made a safer environment for our community.

I want to tell other farmworkers and communities like ours to build their own LPFMs. I'd especially like to see LPFM stations in communities to the north where migrant workers go when the season in Immokalee is over and where farmworkers are more isolated and have even less access to information, communities where workers face severe violations of their human rights including continuing existence of human trafficking and modern-day slavery. But the FCC already gave away most of the frequencies that they could use. Those spots are now filled with translator stations, which bring listeners no local content – but instead repeat a signal from Twin Falls, Idaho across the nation. The Commission must prioritize new local broadcasters over these distant-fed translators, and stop silencing community radio hopefuls, waiting years to broadcast.

You have chosen to listen to Florida's people tonight, and to give our voices the strongest weight in your decision. I ask each of you to stop media consolidation, and to expand and protect access to low power FM. Listen to your conscience – and build the media system that you know, in your hearts, that we need. Thank you.

article originally published at http://www.ciw-online.org.

The media's job is to interest the public in the public interest. -John Dewey