Chile: Alternative Media Have Their Network

  (IPS) – The recently created People’s Media Network of Chile seeks to forge links that will strengthen newspapers, web sites and radio and TV stations that give a voice to those who are basically ignored by the mainstream media."The Network has emerged as an attempt to give a broad voice to the long-standing demands of the peoples of Chile" overcoming "the news barrier imposed by the press duopoly," Bruno Sommer, coordinator of the new Network and director of the El Ciudadano newspaper, told IPS.

"We want to raise the voices of Chilean social organisations to the realm of public debate, working together as people’s media," said the young Chilean journalist.

The "duopoly" he was referring to is made up of the country’s two news consortiums – El Mercurio, which owns 22 newspapers, and Copesa, which owns three papers, a magazine and three radio stations. The two groups receive the lion’s share of government advertising contracts.

The Network was created by more than 50 media outlets at an early May meeting in the port of Valparaíso, 120 km west of the capital on the Pacific coast.

"We believe in communication as a political tool for securing rights that are restricted by the current constitution; we believe in the strength of a broad movement aimed at bringing about change which, using both new and traditional communication technologies, exerts its influence as a third sector, a force that presents an alternative to the dominant private sector-government model," says the Network’s founding document.

As well as El Ciudadano, the Network includes the Azkintuwe and Mapuexpress Mapuche news agencies and the newspapers El Polémico and La Alternativa. Participating radio stations include Placeres, El Encuentro, Konciencias, Nueva Mirador and Tierra, while the community TV stations include Canal 6, Umbrales and NDTV.

Diversity is the name of the game. The Network involves community media, where local people are the protagonists, as well as regional and national media run by professional journalists. Some are self-managed, while others operate with state funds, foreign donations or advertising. But one thing they all have in common: they are all involved in a daily struggle for survival.

The sources cited are mainly local and are diverse in terms of occupation, gender and age. It is also possible to find formats that have vanished from the mainstream media, like radio theatre and in-depth radio features. These media outlets also follow political and social processes in other countries of Latin America – coverage that is virtually absent from the mainstream media.

El Ciudadano is one of the most successful new independent newspapers. The 12-page publication came out in March 2005 in the southern district of La Unión with a print run of 800 every two weeks. Today circulation stands at 15,000 a month and the newspaper is distributed throughout the country. In addition, it publishes daily news reports on its web site:

"There is a world of alternative media that is not very visible in Chile," Juan Enrique Ortega, at Educación y Comunicaciones (ECO), a local NGO that provides technical and logistical support to the independent media outlets, told IPS.

The alternative outlets began to hold meetings in 2007, but only this year, at the fourth national meeting, were they able to overcome their "mainly political" discrepancies and mutual wariness, and form the Network, said Ortega.

"The problems revolved around the definition of what it meant to be ‘alternative’ or ‘of the people’, or who was more ‘grassroots’, just like what is happening in the Chilean left," said the journalist, who holds a master’s degree in communications from the University of Chile.

The central aims of the Network are to strengthen the management and administration of each outlet, search for alternative sources of financing and training, and develop strategies for legal defence in the face of shared problems. The outlets also agreed to design reporting guidelines and share news.

With a view to democratising communications, the participants will continue pressing the centre-left government for more equitable distribution of state advertising, and will lobby for improving draft laws currently under debate, like a bill on community radio stations and another one on digital TV.

Besides financing, another problem faced by community media, especially radio and TV stations, is that they must often break the country’s strict regulations in order to operate.

Community TV stations "have no legal recognition, because the current law does not take into account this kind of media, with a broadcasting spectrum that has failed to meet the current challenges and a National Television Council that only grants broadcasting permits to those that offer the best technical conditions," says the Network’s declaration.

"In Chile they tell you ‘it is possible here to have your own station’. And yeah, sure, it’s true the possibility exists. But in terms of cost, it’s beyond the means of grassroots sectors," said Ortega.

In his view, "the umbrella linking these media is rejection of the neoliberal (free market) model of development" and a focus on issues like political reform, citizen participation, defence of indigenous peoples and natural resources, and the protection of the rights of workers, teachers, students, women, children, immigrants and sexual minorities.

"The emergence of new communications technologies opens up the field to the community media, something that (Argentine academic and thinker Alejandro) Piscitelli describes as ‘narrative emancipation’: the chance to tell our own story and vision of events," said Sommer:

"In a scenario of globalisation, in which the encroachment of transnational corporations undermines human and territorial rights, a large group of social media outlets have decided to recuperate ethics in journalism, putting it at the service of collective interests above private interests," said the director of El Ciudadano.

Ortega said community media "are rapidly becoming more professional" thanks to the large number of young students taking part in them.

In his view, the contribution of these media is "to make the voices heard of a Chile that is not visible, diversify public opinion which has become overly homogeneous as the result of the prevailing communication discourse, and defend people’s right to communication."