13th February marks the 11th annual celebration of World Radio Day as proclaimed by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). This year’s theme is ‘Radio and Trust’.
On the first celebration of World Radio Day in 2012, former UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples James Anaya emphasised the importance of community radio for the world’s Indigenous Peoples: ‘Radio has been a fundamental means for Indigenous Peoples to maintain their languages and to exercise and defend their rights.’
Cultural Survival continues to work to implement Indigenous Peoples’ right to establish their own self-determined communication platforms as enshrined in Article 16 of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. In 2021, they supported 57 radio and media projects in 23 countries, totaling $340,500. We also trained 52+ indigenous women in radio production and journalism. Their Indigenous Community Media Youth Fellowship program supported 25 youth in gaining new audiovisual and media leadership skills.
Their Indigenous Rights Radio programme produced and distributed over 623 urgent PSAs related to Covid in 140+ indigenous languages to over 1,200 stations in 69 countries since the start of the pandemic. Their advocacy for indigenous community media focuses on pushing for the democratisation of radio frequencies by changing telecommunication laws in countries where indigenous peoples want to have their own radio stations and where they face criminalization for claiming their right to freedom of expression, such as in the case we just won at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights related to community radio stations in Guatemala.
On December 17, 2021, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights announced its decision in the case Indigenous Maya Kaqchikel Peoples of Sumpango vs. Guatemala, declaring the Republic of Guatemala ‘internationally responsible for the violation of the rights to freedom of expression, equality before the law and participation in cultural life’ of indigenous peoples. This decision is historic in protecting Indigenous Peoples’ rights to expression and culture and promoting pluralism in media. The Court ordered the Guatemalan government to allow Indigenous broadcasters to operate ‘freely and without interference’ and to legalise community radio stations.
On World Radio Day, we celebrate this victory and uplift the voices of Indigenous radio journalists risking their lives to go on air. In many parts of the world, despite the risk of police raids, jail time, threats, and even death for community journalists, community radio stations serve a vital function by distributing information about important news and educational programming like emergency disaster relief, voter registration, and public health campaigns. The power of radio reaches even the most rural areas, providing indigenous communities with access to programming in their own languages and serves as a voice that promotes their cultures, traditions, and belief systems.