International freedom of expression organization launches Community Communication Observatory for Brazilian media

In February, an organization which defends freedom of expression, Article 19, launched the Community Communication Observatory, an online platform which aims to increase the visibility of bureaucratic difficulties and legislative problems facing community media outlets in Brazil.

"We are highly concerned about the criminalization of operating without a license. It's not that there shouldn't be sanctions, but criminalization is disproportionate to the right to freedom of expression. According to experts, the combination of three factors (a maximum range of one km radius, a buffer of only one frequency per location and a distance of four km) makes it impossible with the current parameters to cover more than 20% of the territory with community radio services. In other words, by law, more than 80% of each locality is not entitled to service," project coordinator Laura Tresca told the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas.

On the website, the organization has published a module on community radio, divided into six parts: a map, grants, closings, jurisprudence, sustainability and experiences. According to Tresca, the content that has drawn the most attention is jurisprudence, an important tool for lawyers defending the stations that have been shut down.

The data available reflects the obstacles facing community media outlets. "Before, we only had testimonies from officials saying that the grant process was very time consuming. Today, ObsComCom - by taking the total number of requests, and subtracting the number of denied applications and the number of licensed radio stations - has the exact figures for the extent of the problem. The Ministry of Communication has yet to analyze 11,842 of the 17,164 requests. From 1998 to 2011, the agency has only responded, negatively or positively, to 4022 cases. In other words, the grant process is at the very least slow, if not neglected all together," Tresca said.

Upcoming modules on the website will address TV, providers, newspapers, and community blogs. Article 19 is still looking for financial support and partners (see how you can help here).

"Community media guarantee the spread of opinions and ideas of social groups often underrepresented in mass media. Therefore, the community system is essential to ensure that there is diversity of ideas and information and diversity in the types of media outlets. With the current legislation, this plurality and diversity is institutionally threatened," said Tresca.