Author: Andrea Medrado
This post, published in two parts (FIND PART ONE HERE), reports on a panel session which took place at the International Association for Media and Communication Research (IAMCR) annual conference, among four initiatives involved with community media responses to COVID-19. Members of the four initiatives, based in India, Brazil, Mexico and Spain, have discussed the role of community media in crisis response, arriving at common themes that this post illustrates.
Acknowledging, praising, but not romanticising resilience
“Resilience: the ability of a substance to return to its usual shape after being bent, stretched, or pressed.” This definition can be found in the Cambridge dictionary. Here, when we think about resilience from a Global South perspective, it is important to acknowledge it and praise it, but not romanticise it. In Brazil, people (and particularly women) who are resilient, facing all kinds all hardships in life without losing their spirit are called “guerreira(o)s” (or warriors). But I will never forget the words of a female favela activist who once told me: you know what? Do I need to be “guerreira” all the time? This is just exhausting. No one deserves having to fight all the time.
I see a strong link with the work that is being done by initiatives such as Ideosync, Frente de Mobilização, Manos a la Obra, and ReMC. These community-based efforts are at the heart of places that are the most affected by natural disasters and health crises. Their work helps inform people (in a context of mis and disinformation), creates networks of solidarity (in times of social anxiety) and literally saves thousands of lives (in times of death). So, yes, of course, they do seem like warriors in the positive sense of the word. And, yet, despite all these qualities, community media still receive little recognition. No licenses, no subsidies, no support. And what is worse, the people involved in community media are often harassed, threatened, and silenced.
But community media in the Global South(s) keep resisting. They keep speaking up and speaking out against marginalisation and injustice. But are States, authorities, and other institutions of power willing to listen? Here, I evoke Tanja Dreher’s ideas on “politics of listening”. To quote her, “in order to adequately understand and contribute to struggles for media change, media research needs to attend to the politics of ‘listening’ in addition to the dynamics of ‘speaking up’. Crucially, attention to listening shifts the focus and responsibility for change from marginalised voices and on to the conventions, institutions and privileges which shape who and what can be heard in media (2010, p. 85). This implies that the difficulties that community media face, particularly in times of crises, have less to do with an inability to speak up on the part of those oppressed, and more to do with a refusal to listen on the part of State Governments and media regulation bodies, amongst other powerful actors (Dreher, 2010, p. 98). When facing crises such as the current COVID-19 pandemic, how could community media initiatives be simply ignored in official plans, for instance? Sadly, this is precisely what is happening in many places of the world, as we learned in the four presentations. Would this indicate that the COVID-19 pandemics has made necropolitics – the politics of life and death, with States deciding who may live or who must die – more apparent? I pose this question as a provocation but I will need to leave it aside in this long blog post (it could become another post on its own) because I want to return to South-to-South talking and listening. Whilst Governments fail to listen and cater for the needs of their communities, we have a lot to learn from other experiences in the Global South.
Lessons learned from India, Brazil. Mexico, and Spain:
In India, civil society has advocated for many years that community radio should become an intrinsic part of disaster management plans but these appeals often fell on deaf ears. It was only after the Uttarakhand flash floods in 2015, and the civil society action that followed it, that there was some recognition of the important role played by community radio in natural disasters. After the Nepal Gorkha earthquake, also in 2015, the Uttarakhand State became the first Indian state to have a community radio policy for disaster risk reduction. Lessons learned from this process came in useful during the Kerala floods in 2018 when the Government was encouraged to form partnerships with community radios.
In Brazil, and specially in Rio de Janeiro, police violence has been endemic for decades. In 2019, the Rio de Janeiro Police killed 1,810 people (BBC News Latin America, 2020). This makes a shocking average of five killings per day. Young black men from favela communities are usually the victims and children, such as Ágatha (8 – killed in 2019), and, as young as Rennan (3 – killed in 2006) have also been killed. Even during the pandemic, as Gizele Martins noted, police operations have killed black favela youth in different favela areas. Recently, pressure from civil society, mothers of victims, and activists led to an important victory: In July 2020, Brazil’s Supreme Court decided to suspend police operations in the favelas. This was a way to mitigate the suffering of favela communities who were dying from COVID-19, hunger, and from being shot at, as Gizele put it. But there is still a long way to go in terms of protecting human rights in the favelas.
In Mexico, Renán spoke about the importance of Indigenous languages rescue programmes, which have had a remarkable impact in terms of quantity and quality of audience responses. Additionally, Manos a la Obra Comunicación Comunitaria Antiviral manage to create a “broadcasting corridor”, connecting community radios in different areas and they strengthened these ties when the COVID-19 pandemic erupted.
Finally, in Spain, in A Coruña, the Government of the Galicia Region tried to shut down a community radio station. As response, the station— called CUAC FM— took the Government to court and won the case. The judge ruled in their favour, indicating the importance for community media initiatives to become legal entities and judicialise issues if necessary.
Speaking of the pandemic context in the Global South(s), the presentations also addressed how a “digital illusion” is being created, with those who are already marginalised being re-marginalised. At the same time, because all things have multiple facets, there have been enriching opportunities for dialogue and exchange for activists and community media practitioners in different regions of the Global South. This second aspect, of course, does not counterbalance the first but, in any case,
Let’s keep talking to each other
Until they listen
Black lives matter
The Panel Dealing with Crises, Community Communication and Alternative Media: Experiences from the Global South was organized by IAMCR’s Community Communication and Alternative Media (CAM) Section. The leaders of the section acted as curators for the four initiatives (Vinod Pavarala – India, Andrea Medrado – Brazil, Claudia Magallanes Blanco – Mexico, and Alejandro Barranquero – Spain). Claudia Magallanes Blanco moderated the session and her institution, Universidad Iberoamericana Puebla, provided support for editing the video. To Claudia, Vinod, Alejandro, and all members of the section, thank you!
About the author:
Andrea Medrado is a Tenured Assistant Professor at the Department of Social Communication and at the Postgraduate Programme in Media and Everyday life of Federal Fluminense University in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. She worked as the Co-Investigator for the eVoices Network, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC UK), analysing different uses of digital technologies and art-ivism (art + activism) to fight marginalisation in countries of the Global South. Recently, she was elected Vice President of IAMCR, and she also acted as the Co-Chair of the Community Communication and Alternative Media Section (CAM) for four years (2016-2020). She earned a Ph.D. from the University the Westminster and worked as a Posdoctoral Researcher at Royal Holloway University of London. Her research interests include mediactivism; community and alternative media; South-to-South communication flows; media and favelas; ethnographic approaches; and social media, visibility, and human rights.