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2010-2014. Regulations and public policy developed for community broadcasting in Uruguay

“Among some of the achievements it can be observed that official recognition of community broadcasting has allowed the country to move forward in terms of freedom of expression and information, thus encouraging the decentralization of the media system and laying the foundations for the regulatory principle of pluralism and diversity.”

Martin Prats*/ August 2015

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Law 18.232 of Community Broadcasting (LCB) passed in December 2007, marked the regulatory recognition of community broadcasting and appreciation of this sector as a platform for the human right to freedom of expression.

Through the introduction of two resolutions, and within the framework of the Community Broadcasting Survey provided for by Law, in 2008 the Executive Branch[1] regulated the situation of FM radios belonging to civil associations and non-profit groups in different parts of the country.

Law 17.930 of the Budget for 2005 created the National Telecommunications Office (DINATEL) within the Ministry of Industry (MIEM), the Office being subordinate to the National Communications Office, which according to Law 15.671 is overseen by the Ministry of National Defence. However, Law 18.719 of the Budget for 2010 set out the powers of DINATEL and provided it with better resources to undertake its tasks. In terms of what concerns us for this analysis, Article 418 conferred different competencies, the following of which are of special interest: policy design and the planning of radio spectrum management, along with the provision of advice to the Executive on policies and criteria for granting licenses and authorizations for the audiovisual media.

On 30 December 2010, the Executive Branch issued Decree 417/2010 which regulated the LCB, establishing a more precise legal framework, and so allowing both the State and community broadcasting services to better adapt to the legal requirements and facilitate their implementation.

This legal and institutional framework has encouraged greater commitment in promoting the community sector, in addition to regulating existing community radios throughout the country, and promoting a national plan for the use of the radio spectrum in which spaces are set aside for community broadcasting.

In this sense certain milestones should be underlined:

Between 2011 and 2014, the Executive began a process for the allocation of community frequencies in many of the country’s departments. Public calls were made for the exclusive use of frequencies for ten year periods in 39 locations around the country. In turn, from 2011 onwards dozens of frequencies were assigned to the Ministry of Education and Culture (MEC) in order to be used under the legal regime of shared frequencies.

In late 2014, the Executive issued a decree setting aside channels on the FM band exclusively for community broadcasting services throughout the whole country[2] –apart from the departments of Montevideo, Flores and Durazno- thus complying with the provisions of Article 5 of Law 18.232.

In terms of economic and technical support, in 2010 DINATEL established an “Advisory Board” for community broadcasting services and other parties involved in the sector. It also provided training in technical and communication areas, as well as a series of talks on the formal requirements for the submission of proposals, and on the steps that needed to be taken by stations that had received authorizations within the framework of the process for the implementation of auditing procedures as set out by the LCB.

In 2013 a call was made to contribute to the updating and technical improvement of production and transmission equipment. The total amount allocated was $U 119,805 Uruguayan pesos and four proposals were selected.

In 2014 this financial support was increased, leading to various public tenders:

1.- Projects that serve the need to strengthen the country’s national identity and support the implementation of its social development goals in the area of services. The amount allocated was $U 750,000, with a limit placed on each project of $U 250,000.

2.- Projects encompassing audio communication products of a community nature, and of between 20 and 120 minutes of total duration. The total amount allocated for the total tender was $U 250,000.

3.- Projects involving community radio services exclusively within the country for the technological upgrading and improvement of production and transmission equipment, in order to improve technical capacities. The total amount allocated was $U 385,000, with a limit placed on each project of $U 38,500.

In 2013 approval was also given to the General Regulation of Digital TV,[3] in which recognition was given to the community sector as a beneficiary of the allocation of frequencies, establishing a reservation of spectrum bands in accordance with the provisions of the LCB. The MIEM opened a public call for parties interested in providing broadcasting services of community digital terrestrial television in Montevideo, together with another call for commercial digital TV.

 

 

 

However, public policy for the implementation of the LCB has also encountered certain obstacles:

1.- The general context of crisis or transition of the media in general, poor financial resources and/or lack of training, led to many of the public calls to tender being declared void due to the lack of interest shown, or the inability of applicants to meet the requirements established by the LCB.

2.- Many of the authorized radios also failed to develop attractive proposals or a level of quality that could compete with the commercial sector.

3.- The authorizations were limited to the allocation of frequencies in FM, granting only limited transmission powers that just covered the immediate geographic vicinity (30 w). There were no calls for tender for AM frequencies. After the authorizations that resulted from the 2008 Survey, there were no calls for frequencies in the metropolitan area (specifically in Montevideo and Canelones), and in the calls that were made, only some localities were chosen and in each only one proposal ended up being selected.

4.- An orderly plan was not implemented to conduct an open and public competition, which in principle should be carried out at least twice a year, and neither were competitions opened in response to requests from interested parties.

5.- Nor was it explained, beyond the saturation of the radio spectrum in Montevideo, why when FM frequencies were freed up, these same were not reserved for the purpose of community broadcasting.

Among some of the achievements it can be observed that official recognition of community broadcasting has allowed the country to move forward in terms of freedom of expression and information, thus encouraging the decentralization of the media system and laying the foundations for the regulatory principle of pluralism and diversity.

The context of a new regulatory legal framework that arises with the approval of Law 19.307 of Audiovisual Communication Services in late 2014 should be able to strengthen this process.

 

* Lawyer. Honorary Chairman of the Advisory Board of Community Broadcasting since 2008.

RELATED LINKS:

Argentina: Regularizar el sector sin fines de lucro, una cuenta pendiente a más de 5 año de la sanción de la Ley Audiovisual

Chile: Fondo de producción comunitaria del CNTV: elementos para un análisis crítico

 

[1] Resolutions 885 and 888 issued on 24 October 2008

[2] Resolution 574 issued on 20 October 2014

[3] Decree 153 issued on 11 May 2012