Community radio goes international: report from Amman

By Elizabeth DiNovella, The Progressive

Greetings from Amman, Jordan. I am here to attend the Ninth World Conference of Community Radio Broadcasters, known by the French acronym, AMARC. According to its website, AMARC “is an international non-governmental organization serving the community radio movement, with almost 3,000 members and associates in 110 countries. Its goal is to support and contribute to the development of community and participatory radio along the principles of solidarity and international cooperation.”

More than 300 people are here from 94 countries, from a variety of radio stations. Some are rural, some are in urban areas, some are in conflict zones. But one thing all these stations have in common is the belief that people—all people—have the right to access to the airwaves. The right of communication was included in the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights. However, many governments fail to recognize this fundamental human right.

As Steve Buckley, president of AMARC, said in the plenary, radio is a medium that does not recognize walls or borders. Buckley also said that AMARC is an organization of people who “share a conviction that peace, shared understanding, a more just and equitable world requires more equitable access to the means of communications. That when people take voice, they also take back power. And that radio, with its peculiar characteristics of immediacy and intimacy, and its accessibility as a medium that is oral, portable, and low cost, can serve to give people voice and a means of expression.”

Our local host organization is AmmanNet, the first Internet-based radio station in the Arab world. In 2000, AmmanNet overcame the seemingly impossible political situation by broadcasting online in a country that banned independent radio stations. In July 2005, AmmanNet began broadcasting to the Amman area on 92.4 FM. (In 2004, Jordan created a new media law, and now the spectrum is starting to open up.)

AmmanNet is working with other groups in the country to create more independent radio stations. For instance, it is helping a women’s group in the Jordan Valley. Many of these women are here at the conference, and one of them told me they do not care how long it takes—one year or ten—they will have a radio station.

A topic that has come up over the last few days has been the sad state of Arab media. The Arab media activists and journalists here at the conference are fully aware of this. But we in the United States rarely, if ever, get a glimpse of this debate. It is very clear to me that many people here in the Middle East are hungry for an independent media—for stories that reflect their lives, for journalists who can expose rampant government corruption, and for journalists to tell the stories of their communities, free from censorship and other forms of government control.

On a somber note, we found out that the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo shut down several community radio stations (and three television stations) this past weekend. A representative from Radio Reveil of Kinshasa is here at the meeting, and it is his station that is one of those that has been closed. According to a written statement from AMARC, the decision by the Congolese authorities to suspend the broadcasts of these stations has no basis in Congolese law. And it is certainly a violation of international law. (AMARC officials suspect that this closure was timed to coincide with the upcoming announcement of election results in that country. AMARC demanded that these stations reopen immediately and submitted a letter to the government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, signed by participants at the conference.

Solidarity actions such as this one show the importance of AMARC as an international alliance of the community radio movement.

article originally published at http://www.progressive.org/mag_ldb111306.

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