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REGIONS:

POOR DENIED EQUAL ACCESS TO AIRWAVES: AMARC

Radio broadcasting laws in Central America are incompatible with the American Convention of Human Rights and should be reformed to give community radio stations an equal place at the table in the allocation of radio frequencies, the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights (IACHR) has been told.

At its annual hearings in Washington, D.C. two weeks ago, the regional human rights watchdog received a delegation from the World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters (AMARC) that presented a report on challenges facing community radio in Central America.

The report argued that laws regulating radio broadcasting in the region are incompatible with the Convention because they deny marginalised communities equal access to radio frequencies. "The frequencies are auctioned to the highest bidder or sold through procedures under which the most central criteria ? are economic requirements." This significantly impedes access by those with little economic power or citizen groups "whose goals in their use of a radio frequency are the benefits to society as a whole and the social development of the communities in which [they] operate," says AMARC.

AMARC urged the IACHR to examine the compatibility of radio broadcasting laws in the region with the Convention, similar to the study the IACHR conducted on criminal defamation laws. It also urged the IACHR and the Organization of American States' (OAS) Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression to continue monitoring the situation facing community radio stations, including in Guatemala where talks between government and community stations on amending broadcast laws have stalled.

The IACHR welcomed AMARC's suggestions and suggested that the organisation prepare a follow-up report detailing specific cases in relation to international standards on freedom of expression.

The IACHR is an independent arm of the OAS that monitors human rights in the Americas. Its Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression, which have been approved by OAS member countries, states, " The concession of radio and television broadcast frequencies should take into account democratic criteria that provide equal opportunity of access for all individuals."

AMARC's full report (available only in Spanish) can be downloaded here:
http://legislaciones.amarc.org/Presentacion_audiencia_Guate%20_jul06_.pdf
Visit these links:
- AMARC Alert Issued via IFEX: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/75941/
- IACHR: http://www.cidh.oas.org/
- American Convention on Human Rights: http://www.cidh.org/Relatoria/showarticle.asp?artID=25&lID=1
- OAS Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression: http://www.cidh.org/Relatoria/index.asp?lID=1

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