Community Media: The Thriving Voice of the Venezuelan People By Liz
Migliorelli and Caitlin McNulty
In Venezuela today a grass-roots movement of community and alternative
media is challenging the domination of private commercial media. Community
oriented, non profit, non commercial, citizen and volunteer run media
outlets are a crucial part of the democratic transformation of society
that is occurring throughout Venezuela. Part of this transformation is the
understanding of freedom of speech as a positive and basic right. This
right includes universal access to a meaningful space for communication in
addition to freedom from censorship. Freedom of expression as a positive
right provides universal access to the means of communication. Political
Analyst Diana Raby reiterates; "the technology of modern communications
has to be made accessible to all, not merely as consumers but as
participants and creators." Community media is beginning to fill this
role in Venezuela.
The 1999 Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela was written
and ratified by the people themselves, setting a societal precedent of
democratic participation. The constitution contains articles that grant
new rights to Venezuelans such as indigenous rights, access to education,
healthcare, housing, employment, political participation and many others
that make the Venezuelan Constitution one of the most progressive in the
world in the area of human rights. Article 58 specifically states,
"Communication is free and plural and must adhere to the obligations and
responsibilities under the law. Every person has the right to objective,
true and impartial information, without censorship ." Article 108 of the
Constitution ensures that all communication media, public and private,
must contribute to the social development of citizens. The same article
guarantees public access to radio, television, library networks and
information networks in order to permit universal access to information.
Public access channels and community-based media are rights that, for the
first time, were ensured under the 1999 Constitution.
The Organic Telecommunications Law, which was passed in June 2000, states
that there are three types of broadcast media in Venezuela: private, state
and community. The law gives legal recognition to community broadcasting,
enabling it to receive special tax breaks. In order to be recognized as a
community broadcaster, the programming has to meet the following criteria.
Principally, the station must be non-profit and dedicated to the
community, with the requirement that 70% of its programming must be
produced within the community. Also, there must be a separation between
the station and its programming, which means that the station itself may
only produce 15%, leaving the remainder to be produced by community
volunteers. In addition, the station must provide training to community
members so the production of media is accessible to everyone. The law also
states that the directors of the community media cannot be party
officials, members of the military, or work for private mass media.
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