The World Association for Christian Communication (WACC) on 9 August 2012, the International Day of the World's Indigenous People, called on society and governments to support community radio in an effort to advance the democratic participation and active citizenship of native peoples.
The United Nations said the 2012 theme is "Indigenous Media, Empowering Indigenous Voices," which aims to highlight the importance of indigenous media in challenging stereotypes, forging identity, communicating with the world, and influencing the social and political agenda. The International Day was first proclaimed by the UN General Assembly in 1994.
A special event at UN headquarters in New York on 9 August featured speakers and videos of indigenous media organisations, with a live webcast.
In its statement, Toronto-based WACC said community media are key agents of participatory development, especially community radio, where affordability and reach make it a powerful agent of social change.
In addition, said WACC, many people participate in community radio, often on a volunteer basis; ownership and control is in the hands of people who genuinely represent the community and there is respect for the diversity of communal needs.
Community radio allows members to voice their concerns and to receive information that directly affects them. It can encourage open dialogue and transparency at the local level, highlight good practices and expose weak governance and corruption. It also provides entertainment during the long days of work and contributes to raising self-esteem and creating solidarity among community members, WACC said.
Indigenous peoples face the particular challenge of cultural survival in contexts where political, social and economic pressures and discriminatory policies are forcing them to replace tribal languages with the dominant languages of the larger societies in which they live. One way of tackling this problem is through community radio, which can become the authentic voice of the people, preserving and revitalising cultural practices and restoring a sense of dignity to their lives, according to WACC.
Earlier this year, on the First International Day of Radio, 13 February, James Anaya, UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous People, commented that, "Radio has been a key medium for indigenous peoples, for the vitality of their languages and the exercise and defence of their rights."
Recently WACC worked with the Chirapaq Centre for Indigenous Cultures in Ayacucho, Peru, to train women and men indigenous communicators in radio production skills. Chirapaq helps Quechua-speaking people to make better use of community radio to increase awareness and knowledge of their rights, both among themselves and among the general public.
While a number of countries have introduced laws and regulations supporting the work of community radio stations, much more needs to be done. Many countries lack legal recognition of community broadcasting, accessible licensing systems, allocation of affordable frequencies and appropriate mechanisms for financial support of community radio, especially with respect to indigenous people, WACC said.
[With acknowledgements to ENInews. ENInews, formerly Ecumenical News International, is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Communion of Reformed Churches and the Conference of European Churches.]