Development & Aid, Global, Global Geopolitics, Headlines, Latin America & the Caribbean

COMMUNICATION: Internet Boosts Reach of Alternative Radio

Patricia Grogg

TUNIS, Nov 18 2005 (IPS) - While the transnational corporations showed off the latest in information and communication technologies (ICTs) at the world summit that ended Friday in Tunis, reporters from alternative radio stations remained loyal to their old tape recorders and microphones.

“When we tried to develop, we were told that putting our radio station on-line would cost a million dollars and that we would need super-advanced technologies,” said María Suárez Toro, co-director of Feminist International Radio, a station that already reaches beyond the borders of Costa Rica thanks to their short-wave transmitters.

But it did not take them long to come up with the solution for getting on-line. “We were the engineers and technicians of our short-wave station, so we decided to use all of the old-fashioned technology from our radio station, with an umbilical cord to the computer,” she told IPS.

The equipment Suárez uses in her news coverage includes a mixer, a tape recorder, a microphone and a computer connected to the Internet. A recent study showed that her station’s audience has expanded to 145 countries in the last five years.

“The sound files that we place on the Internet are downloaded by women from community radio stations and played on their stations. Other professionals take note of our live broadcasts and we are a direct source of events and news,” she said.

The station broadcasts in Spanish and English, which according to Suárez has the advantage of connecting women’s groups in Latin America with women from Asia, Africa, Europe, the United States and Canada.

“We believe that the oral expression of women is where our biggest strength lies. We are radio lovers and decided to invent radio on the Internet,” added the women’s rights activist.

That was one of the issues that drew special attention from the civil society groups represented in the second phase of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), held Wednesday through Friday in the Tunisian capital, with the participation of more than 9,000 representatives from 597 non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

An estimated 17,000 people in all took part in the conference, which was held with the aim of narrowing the digital gap between rich and poor countries, and within nations.

The meeting included a large number of activities organised by NGOs. However, some of the civil society events were banned by the host country.

Suárez said that while she was broadcasting live coverage of the seminar “Expression Under Repression”, organised by the Dutch NGO Hivos, Tunisian authorities warned that “propaganda” could not be distributed in the conference rooms.

“While that was going on, we were broadcasting live coverage of the seminar with our little old equipment, right from there, to the entire world.”

The seminar organised by Hivos, a Dutch-based NGO devoted to development themes, included presentations about the use of “blogs” (web logs) in Zimbabwe, Iran and China as an alternative means of providing people with access to information through the Internet.

“When we talk about alternative and community-based communication it means being able to talk about what is happening at the summit with a different focus from the large mainstream media, and also, to talk about what they are not telling us,” Inés Farina of the Pulsar news agency told IPS.

Pulsar defines itself as “the voice of the voiceless,” said Farina. It is an initiative of the Latin American and Caribbean branch of the World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters (AMARC-ALC), and is aimed at democratising communications through direct contact between journalists and civil society sources.

The agency has offices in Uruguay, Mexico, Brazil and Argentina, and shares agreements with national and regional networks as a means of accessing and disseminating first-hand information on what is happening in the countries of the region.

Its services are provided by e-mail free of charge. “The only thing we ask for is that they credit us,” explained Farina.

She said that Pulsar aimed to cover the summit in Tunis from a critical viewpoint, with a special focus on issues related to civil society and community radio.

Farina said that around 400 community radio stations in Latin America are members of AMARC-ALC.

Numerous alternative media organisations from Latin America attended the WSIS, primarily to learn about the possibilities offered by ICTs for the work they carry out.

“We are in the process of becoming a multimedia organisation. We already produce a written publication, and will begin to broadcast a radio programme in 2006,” said Rosalinda Hernández, co-editor of the Guatemalan feminist publication La Cuerda. Founded in 1998, it has a monthly print run of 20,000 copies.

Hernández reported that the next plans for La Cuerda involve the production of a video version, which will allow the publication to reach every corner of the country, where illiteracy rates are high.

 
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