In Latacunga, capital of Ecuador’s Cotopaxi province, the antenna for Tv MICC stands beside the one for state television. It’s a symbolic victory for the country’s first Kichwa-language television station, which started operating in 2009 following an initiative by the Cotopaxi Indigenous and Campesino Movement (MICC). After four years, the station is second in ratings in this central province of roughly 600,000 residents.
The channel, which was able to face private and public media and push them to change their agendas and programming, has achieved more than symbolic victories.
“At first, they looked down at us as the ‘indigenous channel,’ then they grew concerned because we had a good product with a strong signal, and we were well received by the people,” told Latinamerica Press MICC communicator José Venegas.
“They thought that because it’s an indigenous channel, it would be indigenous programming all day, but we have one news program in Kichwa and one in Spanish, musical and cultural shows, documentaries and reports that other channels won’t give you, [and] independent Latin American, European and US cinema to make people think differently. We connect also with the mestizo population and believe we don’t have to stay small just because we’re an indigenous channel.”
One of the tasks for indigenous media is to reclaim the image of native peoples and report on their culture and their struggles, as well as on the government projects affecting their lands.
It’s about exposing these issues externally, without abandoning internal communication, using the indigenous languages that reflect the indigenous worldview. These media organizations should reinforce the organizing process and indigenous cohesiveness and identity, promoting the concept of Buen Vivir, or Good Living, and countering neocolonialism, racism and patriarchy.
The role of women in indigenous and community media is also improving. At the same time, both are fields for training and empowering women.
“During a three-week march that we organized [in Bolivia] in 1996, I was the only female communicator, but now the situation has changed,” said Susana Pacara, of Bolivian radio station Alter-Nativa Lachiwana, in Cochabamba.
In fact, according to Yolanda Pilar Coque president of the National Quechua Network, which brings together producers and radios stations in Bolivia’s Quechua villages, “at this time in the country there are more women than men working in radio.”
Autonomy in media
These and other experiences were shared during the Second Continental Summit of Indigenous Communication of the Abya Yala, held in Santa María Tlahuitoltepec, Mexico, from Oct. 7-13. In this chilly town in the northern mountains of the southern state of Oaxaca, 1,700 indigenous communicators from the Americas, which is called Abya Yala in the language of the Kuna people in Colombia and Panama, got together. The term is widely used by the region´s indigenous movement.
The event was a mandate of the Fourth Continental Summit of Indigenous Peoples in Puno, Peru, in 2009, and the First Continental Summit of Indigenous Communication in La María Piendamó, Cauca, Colombia, in 2010.
The issue of autonomy in indigenous media with respect to governments was one of the most debated topics by participants this year. Opinions were divided between those who believe it’s possible to receive public funding without affecting a media outlet’s autonomy, those who maintain it’s impossible to be autonomous with financial support from the government, and those who think public funding should be accepted, but not from just any government agency and only under certain conditions.
The final declaration from this summit demanded states “recognize and respect the communication rights of indigenous peoples through legislation and regulations and public policy design that comes from the communities, that ensure our sustainability, ownership and proper management of our media and new technologies, [and] access to mass media, allocating sufficient budgets for the exercise of this right.” It also called to include the airwaves as “common good,” stating that one-third of a country’s radio spectrum should be dedicated to indigenous media, and demanded the allocation of frequencies as the transition to digital progresses.
The participants agreed to operationalize a multimedia platform for Indigenous Communication in the Abya Yala, as a tool for articulating indigenous communication processes throughout the Americas. It will allow “indigenous communicators, community organizations and collective indigenous media outlets to access information, documents, and other materials, as well as be a space to share our processes, exchange experiences, have education and training, [create] a defined workplace, and [be] an official site to organize the Indigenous Communication Summits and publish their respective declarations and reports.”
They also agreed to further the consolidation of Continental Traveling School of Indigenous Communication to allow training of indigenous communicators in their hometowns.
“Indigenous media are a concern for governments, and even more in an international space like this,” said to Latinamerica Press Liliana Pachana Moila, a Colombian indigenous Misak who creates educational content for radio. “The Second Continental Summit of Indigenous Communication is very important because it allows us to strengthen our network of mutual support, so we can create international pressure.”
Acts of violence from companies and government repression makes the job of those working in community-based communications very dangerous, especially in countries like Colombia, Mexico and Honduras, where indigenous communicators have filed many complaints.
According to Wilma Calderón, member of the organization Moskitia Asla Tananka (MASTA), which brings together the Miskito people in Honduras, “the Lenca and Garífuna peoples work at the very heart in community radios, and have seen strong government repression. The government is afraid of them because radio spreads real information about what is happening in the country.” —Latinamerica Press.