Freedom of Expression

Press Release R 12/16

The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the IACHR Urges Guatemala to Adopt Legislation on Community Broadcasting

February 11, 2016

Washington, D.C., — On the occasion of the opening of discussions on community broadcasting in the Congress of Guatemala, the Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) urges the State to expedite the adoption of legislation on this issue, in order to recognize community radio and television and to assign an equitable part of the spectrum and digital dividend to this important form of broadcasting.
Since 2000, the Office of the Special Rapporteur of the IACHR has recommended on many occasions the State of Guatemala to adopt a more fair and inclusive legal framework for broadcasting services that recognizes community media and guarantees equitable conditions for access and use of licenses by non-for-profit social actors, especially indigenous peoples that have historically been excluded from accessing and managing media outlets. During these years, indigenous organizations have submitted four bills designed to put the situation of community radio stations on a regular footing, yet have failed to succeed in Congress.
According to the information available, Bill 4087 "Community Broadcasting Act" [Ley de Medios de Comunicación Comunitaria] is currently is in its third reading by the Guatemalan Congress. The Bill, promoted by civil society and indigenous peoples groups in the country, seeks to guarantee "the access to media outlets to indigenous communities and marginalized sectors of society".  Advances in the Bill represent an extraordinary opportunity for the State to effectively comply with its international obligations on this regard.
Community media perform an essential function in our hemisphere for different sectors of society to exercise their rights to freedom of expression and access to information. On several occasions, the Office of the Special Rapporteur of the IACHR have expressed that community media have the right to be legally recognized and that, as part of this recognition, they have the right for community broadcasting to be properly regulated under equitable conditions.
In the case of Guatemala, the legal recognition of indigenous peoples’ community broadcasting and its regulation is also a historic obligation towards this group of the population victim of the armed conflict. The 1995 Agreement on Identity and Rights of Indigenous Peoples [Acuerdo sobre Identidad y Derechos de los Pueblos Indígenas] establishes that the Guatemalan State should "[p]romote before Congress the reforms needed to the current radiobroadcast law in order to facilitate frequencies to indigenous projects and guarantee the application of the non-discrimination principle in the use media outlets. Furthermore, promote the repeal of all norms in the legal framework that hinders the right of indigenous persons to use media outlets in the development of their identity."
Given the existing conditions of exclusion, the Office of the Special Rapporteur calls upon the State to urgently adopt a legislative framework that includes community media as a form of broadcasting, and removes the disproportionate and discriminatory legal barriers that have impeded to this date that indigenous peoples have access to licenses.
In this regard the Office of the Special Rapporteur reminds the State that, according to inter-American standards, the law on community broadcasting must: (1) provide simple and equitable procedures for obtaining licenses; (2) refrain from demanding strict technological requirements that prevent access to them; and (3) allow for the possibility of using different sources of funding, such as advertising, as a mean to finance operations. The law must also prohibit other arbitrary restrictions on the use of the licenses, such as limitations on the use of indigenous languages or restrictions on coverage by broadcasters.
The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression was created by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) to encourage the defense of the right to freedom of thought and expression in the hemisphere, given the fundamental role this right plays in consolidating and developing the democratic system.