Wilfredo González Gaitán*/Guatemala, mayo 2014
Guatemala is a multicultural, multilingual and multiethnic country, but its diversity is a wasted strength due to its economic, political, social and cultural inequality. This situation is the product of a State that is permissive in terms of discrimination. A State that is institutionally weak against groups of powerful individuals, referred to as the de facto groups.
In Guatemala there is high concentration of media ownership, which unfortunately is viewed as normal by the population, inserted as it is in the collective imaginary. And many people are simply not aware that this concentration violates the social, civil and political rights of citizens, threatening freedom of expression and opinion.
In the chapter on Guatemala in “Between censorship and discrimination” (Central America under threat, 2014), Anna Jover Segura noted the following: “Understanding the relationship between the quality of democracy and access to and exercise of freedom of expression of the media, we can identify that, Guatemala being the Central American country where there is the greatest concentration of commercial media, this is in the hands of just a few conglomerates, causing an imbalance in the democratization of the media itself….” Media concentration has undermined citizen participation and the exercise of democracy, perverting the use of the radio spectrum and the social function that this should fulfil in benefit of the majority.
Over the last two decades, the lack of real mechanisms that would allow different social groups to access frequencies in order to exercise their freedom of expression has led different indigenous organizations to come together as the Movement of Community Radio Broadcasters of Guatemala in order to seek the democratization of the radio spectrum, as established in the Agreement on Identity and Rights of Indigenous Peoples (AIDPI).
To achieve this objective, they presented Initiative 4087 Community Media Law to the Guatemalan Congress on 3 August 2009, which was heard by the Plenary on 20 August of the same year, with a favourable ruling issued on 14 January 2010 by the Commission of Indigenous Peoples. However, the law was then shelved by Congress, which led the Constitutional Court of Guatemala to issue a judgment on 14 March 2012 which was presented before the legislature as follows: “It is requested that the Congress of the Republic, and as considered in the present ruling, issue the appropriate legislation regulating the possibility and access of indigenous peoples to the production and use of transmission bands of the radio spectrum, in order to promote the defence, development and dissemination of their languages, traditions, spirituality and all other cultural expressions.”
However, the Guatemalan Parliament has not heeded this recommendation, and it was only in the present year and thanks to the intervention of Congresswoman Sandra Morán, that Initiative 4087 received its second reading in the plenary session of Congress, which appointed a technical commission to issue a ruling. On 12 April of the present year, and with two votes against, those of deputies Sandra Morán and Amílcar Pop, the legislators that made up the technical commission recommended that Congress should NOT approve the law.
Why has the Community Media Law been forced to take such a torturous path? The answer is that it is a media initiative that will represent a step forward along with other Latin American countries, as it allows for an equilibrium in the game of counterbalances with the country’s present media organizations and opens the possibility for excluded groups to have a voice and be able to visualize their demands in a context where traditional media have always served political interests, as documented by the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) in the chapter “The Media and Politics in Guatemala” contained in its report on the country’s political financing.
Law 4087 is an initiative that clearly defines what is meant by the concept of community media, establishing its final aim and objectives, clearly outlining coverage at the municipal level and the regulation of financial support based on its administration by NON-profit organizations, indicating that “all resources that are received must be invested solely in the media operation, and improvements to ensure continuity in the provision and development of the objectives of a community media service.” The law provides for the creation of a National Council for Community Media as a body that can provide support to the Office of the Superintendent of Telecommunications, which among its other functions will manage the registration of community media broadcasters.
Among the most significant advances achieved by this initiative is the allocation of frequencies, this to be carried out through an open and public tender based on competition and merit and not through an AUCTION as established in Article 62 of the General Telecommunications Law; the community media law also amends Article 51 of the aforementioned law in which classification is made of the frequency bands of the radio spectrum, originally classified as follows: a. frequency bands for amateur radio aficionados; b. frequency bands reserved for State bodies and institutions; c. Regulated frequency bands, which may be acquired through the right of usufruct; initiative 4087 also adds a classification d. Frequency bands for community media: this would clearly be a valuable contribution to Guatemala and its indigenous peoples, allowing communities to receive information in their mother tongues, and bringing them closer to a plurality of ideas and opinions so they can discern, reflect and make decisions that help establish a society that will be more respectful of cultural, linguistic and ethnic diversity.
Unfortunately, this proposal has not found support in most of Guatemala’s political parties and has met with the systematic refusal of the Guatemalan Chamber of Broadcasting, an umbrella organization for the country’s major broadcasting conglomerates.
Today more than ever it is evident that Guatemala needs to democratize the radio spectrum, and open spaces that can be used by representative sectors of the most vulnerable and discriminated segments of the population, with the provision of laws that adhere to and respect human rights. It is urgent that community radios, digital newspapers, community communicators and other alternative forms of communication enjoy the necessary conditions provided by the State so as to fully exercise their right to communication and freedom of expression, thus ensuring a society with a truly democratic culture in which people can enjoy full citizenship.
* DEMOS Institute – Office of Freedom of Expression