In the North American country, 10 % of the frequencies are reserved for community and indigenous radio stations, said Sóstenes Díaz, commissioner of the Federal Telecommunications Institute (FTI), on the occasion of the centenary celebrations of Mexican radio. There are 109 community radio stations and 20 indigenous radio stations protected by the Federal Law on Telecommunications and Broadcasting (LFTyR), which since 2014 has defined a regulatory framework to give certainty to social organizations. The law recognizes the importance of radio in the cultural and social development of communities. The legislation authorizes the granting of licenses to all entities interested in offering these services (Article 87), so much so that the airwaves regulator will hold seminars for entities interested in opening new ones.
The global Radio Maria network adds a new element in Africa, opening in Nigeria. It is the 27th African country (out of 54 on the continent) where the radio station is present. In Africa, Radio Maria also has another 29 radio stations with programmes in local languages. Fr Patrick Alumuku, director of communications for the archdiocese of Abuja, Nigeria’s capital, announced in February 2022 that broadcasting would begin in the city on 91.3 MHz. The inauguration took place on 18 March 2022, while streaming was activated on 4 April 2022. In order to expand its presence in the country (where out of 206 million inhabitants 49.3% are Christian and of these 24.8% are Catholic), an initial group of five frequencies will be switched on in Kaduna, Owerri, Makurdi, Gboko and Ibadan, upon completion of fundraising.
Radio Maria, which finances itself with donations from listeners, periodically launches extraordinary subscriptions to expand into new countries. These are long live broadcasts called “mariatone”: the one for Nigeria was launched on 7th September 2020 by Father Livio Fanzaga, the true “soul” of the radio station, which he has been directing for 35 years.
While in South America it strengthens
The focus on the African continent does not divert attention from other locations: the broadcaster continues to improve even where it is already active. It was only a few days ago that a frequency was activated in Mexico at Guasave Sinaloa on 90.5 MHz. In Argentina (where it has 270 repeaters), the cities of Colonia Caroya (95.3), Jesús María (95.5), Villa de Totoral (96.1), Laborde (97.0) and Monte Maíz (97.0) have been added in the province of Córdoba; in the province of Santa Fe, the cities of Rosario (103.9, flanking 89.1) and María Teresa (94.9). The World Family of Radio Maria takes care of the affiliates: founded in 1988, it is a non-profit association that helps to spread the radio station by taking charge of the organisation and exchange of experiences of all the activities which can promote and develop the project in the world. The World Family of Radio Maria brings together all the national associations which develop a Radio Maria radio station in their own country.
The proliferation of pirate radio stations is worrying the authorities and broadcasters, who are members of the Cirt (National Chamber of the Radio and Television Industry). Many of them are run by organised criminal groups, who use them to communicate with each other, or by religious sects, pressure organisations or to generate mobilisation. “It is estimated that there are at least 500,” said Carlos Ponce, director of the section in charge of verification at the Federal Telecommunications Institute (IFT). Sixty were seized in 2021, bringing to 350 (out of 657 checks carried out) the number of deactivations carried out in the last seven years (since the start of inspection activity). Sixty percent of illegal radio stations are concentrated in the ‘corridor’ that ideally runs from Guadalajara and Bajio to Oaxaca; the other 40 per cent in the north of the country.
Damage to the economy and to licensed radio stations
Illegal pirate radio stations take resources away from the community because they do not pay royalties to the state, they do not pay taxes, they do not create jobs, they do not invest in production. They use frequencies without having participated in public tenders, like the concessionaires, and they take away advertising from the licensed radio stations. They often use non-standard equipment that produces interference and can jeopardise services such as air navigation by jamming communications between the control tower and aircraft. Countering these stations is not easy, says Alejandro Navarrete, head of the IFT’s Radio Spectrum Unit, because they hide their antennas in imaginative and unpredictable ways: they can be in trees or on the empty pipes of a water tank. Moreover, it is not easy to deactivate them: the operators of illegal stations and even whole communities often object and inspectors have to be escorted by the authorities, whether federal, state or municipal security forces.
To support Mexican community radio stations, new legislation requires government institutions, states and municipalities to spend one per cent of the budget allocated to social communication by purchasing advertising space on community radio stations (Article 89, Section VII of the Federal Law on Telecommunications and Broadcasting). The first to implement the legal provision is the Federal Institute of Communications (IFT), which has created a special space on its Internet portal to make it transparent that access to resources is fair.
Support from Unesco for indigenous radios
Another support comes from Unesco, which with its ‘Design of public policies‘ project launched in 2020 seeks to bring indigenous content into public and commercial media. Funded by the European Union and the EU-Uesco Expert Bank, it aims to produce programmes in indigenous languages with content that reflects the country’s cultural and linguistic diversity. Strengthening them helps preserve indigenous languages, cultures and ancestral knowledge. Without forgetting that in the event of natural disasters, their role is irreplaceable, so it is necessary to remove the obstacles that prevent them from obtaining broadcasting authorisation.