By Sovereign Hager
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America
SUCUA, Ecuador-Radio Voice of Arutam, the primary radio station broadcasting to the Shuar indigenous community in the Amazon region, was taken off the air last week for violating Ecuador’s Broadcasting Act. The government contends that the station violated Article 58 of the Act when it allegedly incited violence during protests against the government in October 2009.
International rights organizations, such as Human Rights Watch have denounced the government’s actions. the Committee to Protect Journalists referred to the government shut down as “nothing but an attempt to intimidate the media into silence.”
The community was protesting to protect their “Plan of Life,” against government proposals that would allow their territory to be used for mining without their consent. A teacher and community member died during the protest after he was shot.
The Shuar have pledged to continue their legal battle in the courts, arguing that they provide a community service by airing messages in their own language to a poor community where TV and electric power are almost unknown.
The station argues that even though Arutam was issued a commercial frequency license, they acted as a community service station allowing thousands of their people to communicate with others through the use of a simple message. For example, to notify family members that one has arrived safely at a destination after traveling by car, canoe, or by foot. The Shuar use the radio station, known as “the voice of the jungle” to pass along this information.
Thirteen other radio frequencies have been taken off the air. The government also shut down a television broadcasting company for violating a rule prohibiting false information that could lead to social disturbances.
In the first instance, the station allegedly made a false report that the government’s electoral commission had a “clandestine center” where voting results were manipulated. The second offense was an allegedly false report stating that people on the island of Puná would not be able to fish for six months because of proposed exploration for natural gas.
The Arutam plan on taking their case to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights if the court decision stands. They have also pledged to broadcast clandestinely.
For more information, please see:
The Guardian-Power Versus the Press-8 January 2009
Global Voices-Ecuador:Radio Voice of Arutam Taken Off the Air-14 January 2010
The Huffington Post-Media Battles in Latin America Not About Free Speech-17 January 2009