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Indigenous Mayans in Guatemala rely on pirate radio

Costa Rica’s Tico Times recently published a profile of unlicensed Guatemala radio station Radio Ixchel, as part of an examination of the radio scene in that country. Guatemala has as many as 800 pirate stations, where most radio licenses are auctioned for as much as $100,000. While there are license categories for public stations, there is no regime to license community stations. The 2009 Community Media Bill would have permitted new community stations in some 300 municipalities, but the law failed to pass.

Guatemala’s radio pirates do face the threat of government raids, but the story of Radio Ixchel‘s founder sounds more like the relative toothless penalties risked by pirates in the US:

Today, pirate radio stations face the constant threat of police raids and possible imprisonment. It happened to Radio Ixchel in 2006. But unlike the warnings made in radio announcements, Xunic was not sent to jail. He went before a judge and returned home without a fine.

Not unlike many unlicensed broadcasters in the US and around the world, Guatemala’s radio pirates take to the air because the dominant media fails to serve the needs of local communities and indigenous peoples. The 1996 peace accords that ended Guatemala’s civil war guaranteed indigenous peoples the right to establish media outlets in their own languages, but this has yet to be turned into policy. In a country where even speaking an indigenous language was illegal less than twenty years ago, the fight for communication and media freedom is still vital.

You can read more about Radio Ixchel at the Columbia Journalism Review and Cultural Survival.


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5 Responses to Indigenous Mayans in Guatemala rely on pirate radio

  1. Steve Sywulka January 31, 2012 at 12:58 pm #

    As someone who works with a legal Guatemalan station that broadcasts in several Mayan languages, I would observe the following: The Peace Accords mention “access to the media”, not a right to establish media outlets. The government has promoted bilingual (Mayan-Spanish) education since at least the 1960s, something strange if it were illegal to speak an indigenous language. Most of the pirate stations are commercial or religious, not community, and interfere with legal stations including those like ours that do serve the community.

  2. Cricketd33 January 31, 2012 at 6:05 pm #

    I would like to see some statistics or more information about the commercial versus community and religious stations. And religion is a big part of Mayan community life so I would like to see an explanation about how they differ from a “community” station.

  3. Christie January 31, 2012 at 6:10 pm #

    Community radio stations offer a lot more than a source of news. They are a source of community solidarity, empowerment, and civic participation.

  4. Christian January 31, 2012 at 7:01 pm #

    The problem is that only one group wants to contro the Guatemala. Their is a lot of racism going on in Guatemala. Belive me the government will due nothing about this situation.

  5. Danielle February 1, 2012 at 10:21 am #

    @Steve, the problem with the ‘legal’ stations that you mention, the FGER stations, is that there are two few to be representative of the diversity of the languages and communities in Guatemala. 20 regional stations can’t cover local news, local events, and local culture in 333 different municipalities. I would also like to correct you that the 4087 bill wasn’t rejected in 2009. It received dictamen favorable and has been waiting for debate in plenary session ever since, marginalized and ignored by a congress who acts on behalf of big business. Also, the government has promoted bilingual education on paper, but that’s very very far from actually investing in seeing it flourish.

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