Brazil Silences Community Radios

Brazil Silences 
                Community Radios

Given the
populism from which current Brazilian President
Lula’s campaign emerged, proponents of community radio
in Brazil had hoped for more favorable treatment, but that’s
not the case. Transmitting radio signals without official
authorization continues to be a crime punishable by jail.
by: Marc
Boucher-Colbert

A new set of rules released this year for community radio has
prompted critics to once again compare the Brazilian airwaves
with its agrarian land…both dominated by the colonial latifundario
mentality, which divides up a resource (in this case either
land or bands of broadcast frequency) and distributes it among
an elite group, which in turn continues to support the system
of exclusivity.

Brazilian
radio policy continues to favor large-scale interests over community-based
radio, and small-scale operators say that threatens democracy
in the country.

Given the
populism from which current President Luiz Inácio Lula
da Silva’s campaign emerged, proponents of community radio
had hoped for more favorable treatment, but recent indicators
show that’s not the case.

The recently
enacted norms were fashioned by the previous administration’s
Minister of Communications yet given force by the current minister,
Eunício Oliveira. They include the following aspects
which community radio proponents find repugnant:

1) Transmitting
radio signals without official authorization continues to be
a crime punishable by jail. Thanks to this legislation ANATEL
(the national telecommunications agency) and the Federal Police
are able to continue closings of community radio stations.

This attitude
toward the “subversives” who run radio stations
recalls the days of the dictatorship and censorship. Early free
radio emerged during the waning years of the dictatorship (early
80’s). As it was very left wing, broadcasts were begun
tentatively due to the fear of violent repression.

Yet there
was little action against such community stations on the part
of the government. Ironically, today’s campaigns are much
more organized and effective at shutting down small, unauthorized
stations.

2) Community
radio stations have been granted channels which are outside
the range of normal radio dials, making them effectively out
of reach of larger audiences.

Lula’s
government granted community radio two new channels (87.7 and
87.5 MHz), both off the standard dial of 88 to 108 MHz. In this
way the government can appear to be favorable to community radio
without threatening the larger stations’ dominance of
the airwaves.

3) To be
authorized, the range of a radio station’s signal must
reach at least 1 km. This corresponds to certain wattage of
transmitters whose prices are generally out of reach of small-scale
operators. Some of these stations use homemade transmitters
able to be mounted in a garbage can, small-scale and low-tech.

The minimum
transmission range is not, in fact, a matter of law, but rather
of a policy decree of the Ministry of Communications. It could
have been modified or eliminated had the ministry chosen to
do so, revealing the current administration’s continued
preference for large-scale commercial operators.

4) Authorized
community radio stations are prohibited from advertising products
of major, national companies. They may accept only cultural
support from local supporters and can only broadcast the name
and institutional messages on behalf of their supporters.

The dilemma
seems to be how community stations can survive without either
national funding to support them or the ability to raise their
own funds through advertising.

5)
Lula’s government has continued the shutdowns of local radio.
Instead of legislative reform to bolster the community radio system
(dozens of proposals are currently in legislative channels), the
current administration seems content to strengthen the regulative
bureaucracy as it is.

The sentiments
of the Left regarding the attitude of the government toward
community radio are well summarized in this letter from Jose
Luiz do Nascimento Soter, National Coordinator of ABRACO (Brazilian
Association of Community Broadcasting) to Miro Teixeira, former
Minister of Communication whose draft rules were adopted by
the present minister:

“Keeping
in mind the unquestionable victory of a popular and democratic
campaign for the country, it is necessary to have a discussion
of a new model for the relationship of the state with the democratic
and popular institutions of organized civil society.

"In
this sense, the national ABRACO is communicating…that
ANATEL is intensifying its actions against community radio in
the entire country, provoking reactions of frustration and deception
in the communities that believed that with the election of a
democratic and popular project, the relations between the public
power and broadcasters would be at a level, at the minimum,
of constitutional respect and within the limits of legality,
without respectable citizens being treated as bandits might
be treated: summarily and without a right to self defense.

"Colleagues
who coordinate state ABRACOs have told us that the agents of
ANATEL have promoted true terrorism, explaining that the directors
of the agency have a five-year mandate and that they will continue
shutting down and apprehending equipment.

"Faced
with this and in accord with the report of the Transition Team,
which suggested the immediate suspension of the repression until
the Government finds a solution for the more than 8 thousand
cases buried in the Mini Com annex in Brasilia, we ask that
Your Excellency take immediate measures so that ANATEL performs
in keeping with the new democratic and political orientation,
including the intervention of the Agency if it is thus necessary
so that the same comes to serve the expectation of those who
elected a new hope for Brazil.”

This material was distributed by News from Brazil, a service
from Sejup (Serviço Brasileiro de Justiça e
Paz—Brazilian Service of Justice and Peace). To get
in touch with them, send a message to sejupsub@lycos.com.

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