Headlines, Latin America & the Caribbean, Radio for the 21st Century

BRAZIL: Community Radio Flourishes Online

RIO DE JANEIRO, Jan 26 2012 (IPS) - Community radio stations in Brazil are finding the internet and user-friendly information technologies to be valuable allies for their broadcasts, which focus on citizenship, social equity and human rights.

Community web-radios are making great strides in this Latin American country where procedures for obtaining a federal government license to use a radio waveband are becoming ever lengthier and more bogged down in red tape, which blocks the emergence of new not-for-profit broadcasters.

At present there are around 4,500 legal community radio stations in Brazil, and an estimated further 10,000 operating without a government license.

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Many unlicensed community broadcasters, having applied to the Communications Ministry for a concession which awaits approval, are forced to operate underground without authorisation.

The license application process tends to drag on for between three and 10 years, and there have been cases of delays of up to 17 years, according to the Centro de Imprensa, Assessoria e Rádio (CRIAR, Centre for Press and Radio), which aims to democratise communications in Brazil and support social movements and organisations by providing training, advice and research for community radio production.

“The Brazilian community radio movement is very strong, and has been going for some 20 years now. There is a serious shortage of technical know-how and of training on how to address human rights issues,” João Paulo Malerba, the executive coordinator for Brazil of the World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters (AMARC), told IPS.

“Community radios have great potential to broadcast this kind of social and human rights content, because they are the simplest media,” said Malerba, who is also a researcher with the Laboratory for Community Communication Studies at the state Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (LECC/UFRJ).

The Community Broadcasting Services Law of 1998 regulates community radio and television broadcasters. Back in 1998, there were 2,000 community radios in this country of nearly 200 million people.

Now, 14 years later, the number of legal community radio stations has more than doubled, far surpassing the 2,600 commercial radios in the country.

However, because of the red tape imposed by officialdom, many community radios take their chances and broadcast without a license, only to end up being closed down by the federal police. In September and October 2011 alone, the police took 160 not-for-profit broadcasters off the air.

Political patronage can greatly speed the licensing process. A recent study found that projects with a well-connected “political godfather” in Brasilia were four times more likely to obtain a license from the ministry quickly, Malerba complained.

“We are very concerned about this because it can result in loss of identity, since many broadcasters associate themselves with politicians or religious groups (in order to get a license), and so the pluralism that is the essence of community radio broadcasting is lost,” he said.

The law requires not-for-profit broadcasters to have a coverage radius of no more than one kilometre and a maximum transmitter power of 25 watts. Malerba complained that the range is inadequate in many cases because the radio broadcasts serve communities that are spread out over areas greater than a kilometre in radius.

He mentioned for example the radios set up in the “favelas” (shanty towns) in Rio, which stretch out over several kilometres and have an average population of 100,000. He also mentioned the Amazon region, where people live sparsely scattered over large areas.

In order to overcome these hurdles, Brazilian community broadcasters are turning to the internet, as they have found that the web enables them to operate with the range and freedom they desire and that has been denied them in the world of radio waves.

“Anyone can create a web-radio. But access to the internet in the communities they want their broadcasts to reach is still very limited, especially in the north and northeast regions, where very few people can use internet,” said Malerba.

Web-radios first appeared in Brazil in 2005, and a year later there were already close to 100 community broadcasters transmitting their programmes online.

Malerba emphasised that web-radios are different from traditional radios stations and connect with a wider universe, because their audiences – individuals, communities and social movements – are found throughout the country rather than confined to a specific locality.

There is no register of the current number of community web-radios in Brazil, but there are known to be several hundred.

Web-radios are expected to spread and multiply with the progress of the National Broadband Plan, which aims to provide low-cost broadband internet services to some 40 million Brazilian homes by 2015, and to over 90 percent of the country’s cities by 2017.

The pioneering Radiotube project was started in 2007 to bring together a network of social communicators with a focus on citizenship and human rights, from communities all over the country. It is coordinated by Andre Lobão, an expert on digital media.

“Radiotube is a platform for accessing a wide range of contents, and it is an innovative project that, with its concept of citizenship, can take advantage of the advent of the Web 2.0 environment to promote interaction between social networks and sharing of their contents,” he told IPS.

The platform adheres to the principles of Creative Commons (an NGO that has developed “some rights reserved” licenses aiming to maximise digital creativity, sharing and innovation), and of democratisation of information via shared, authorised circulation of contents and computer programmes.

For instance, a community radio in the northwestern state of Amazonas can use the internet to download a computer programme produced by a community radio station in the southern state of São Paulo, Lobão explained.

“Radiotube facilitates access to content produced by community web- radios all over the country. They can diversify their content, produce programmes incorporating their own particular perspective, and create content in a more horizontal, participative way on an equal footing,” he said.

The Radiotube project was initiated by CRIAR, which is in contact with a network of 1,400 community radios in the country, of which one-third are already operating on the internet as online radios.

Currently the Radiotube network comprises some 400 community web- radios, most of them located in the southeast of Brazil.

In the southeastern state of Rio de Janeiro, for example, about 40 web-radios are associated with Radiotube, and there are another 30 in São Paulo state.

Meanwhile in the northeast the platform has contact with 12 community web-radios in the states of Bahia and Pará. Further north, there are only 6 participating online radio stations.

Lobão forecasts that the number of web-radios in the north of the country will expand in parallel with the provision of broadband services covering the length and breadth of the country.

This will open up a wealth of new opportunities for community radio stations, which continue to strive for recognition and a place in the sun within Brazilian broadcasting.

*This story was produced with the support of UNESCO.

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