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Latin America

Commentary: Major changes to Ecuador's media landscape

27 community radios in Ecuador are applying for new licenses. Community media are to make up one third of the media outlets - and bring greater diversity to the country's media sector, says DW Akademie's Mirjam Gehrke.

The Correa government passed a new media-law in 2013. Community radios and other broadcasters are currently applying for new frequencies, to be distributed in June 2016. (photo: picture-alliance/dpa/F. Constante)

Community radios are currently applying for new frequencies, according to the media-law by the Correa government in 2013.

It's early morning in Cumbayá, a suburb of Quito, and the sun's already heating up the sidewalk outside Casa San Patricio. Representatives from 27 community radio stations have gathered here at the meeting house, and sit at long tables in a darkened room. Their laptops are open, bathing the room in a bluish glow; on their screens are Excel tables and online forms. Wilson Tituaña, a finance expert with the community media network CORAPE, is showing those present how to fill in the tables.

The representatives are preparing for what could be the most radical change in decades to Ecuador's media landscape. Almost three years ago, the National Assembly passed a communications law declaring that broadcasting frequencies would be shared out equally between private, public and community media outlets. However, it wasn't clear when the government would begin distributing the licenses. On April 12, 2016, the Telecommunications Regulation and Control Agency, Arcotel, finally announced that just over 1400 frequencies would be made available. The tender deadline is set for June 15, 2016.

The democratization of communication

Ecuador country manager, Mirjam Gehrke, DW Akademie, Foto: DW Akademie/Nadine Wojcik

Ecuador country manager, Mirjam Gehrke

The extensive documentation required for the tender process was put together in two workshops for the radio stations, coupled with individual consulting. DW Akademie has provided support throughout the process, which sets the project sponsor, CORAPE, as a center of excellence for Ecuador's community media.

DW Akademie also financed the workshops and paid for an independent expert. In all, it has helped strengthen CORAPE's position as a major community media stakeholder. Media expert Mabel Calvache worked with the stations and is convinced they will meet all the licensing requirements. As fully-fledged and legitimized community radio stations, they will be a voice to people living in remote areas, she says.

Despite the controversy over the law passed by President Rafael Correa's government, strengthening community media is a step towards democratizing communication in Ecuador. The goal now is to put the law into practice and, above all, to help community broadcasters develop professionally, financially and technology-wise.

These grassroots, not-for-profit stations see themselves as the voice of their communities, and play a vital role in maintaining their communities' cultural identities. Community media have long been involved in the civil rights struggles of Latin America's indigenous peoples, and are an important counterweight to the mainstream media in the highly polarized media landscapes of countries such as Ecuador.

The horrendous earthquake that struck Ecuador in spring this year and left more than 600 people dead and thousands injured, showed just how important community radio stations are for rural communities. For communities on the coast that had been devastated, the stations were often the only link to the outside world. The CORAPE community media network made it possible to exchange information, determine the need for relief goods and supplies on the ground, and to keep people informed.

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