Ecuador: Radio Voice of Arutam Taken Off the Air

Radio Voice of Arutam, also known as the “Spirit of the Jungle” or the “Lord of the Waterfalls” and broadcasts to the Shuar indigenous community in the Amazon region has been taking off the air after a ruling by the Telecommunications National Council [es] (CONATEL for its initials in Spanish). CONTAEL said that the station violated Article 58 of the Broadcasting Act when it incited violence during protests against the government in October 2009.

Arutam begun to operate on July 4, 1984, first in an AM frequency to change into a FM which broadcasts on the 107.3 MHz at the moment. The radio concession belongs to the Inter provincial Federation of Shuar Centers (FISH for initials in Spanish), based in Sucua, province of Morona Santiago in the center of Ecuadorian Amazon.

Shuar Community Member, Photo by @00rinihartman on Flickr and used under Creative Commons license.

Shuar Community Member, Photo by @00rinihartman on Flickr and used under Creative Commons license.

The problem between the Shuar and the government originated back in September 2009, when the community protested to protect their “Plan of Life”, which is what the Shuar call the set of rules by which they live, in regards government proposals that the Shuar said would allow their territory to be used for mining without their consent. As a result, teacher and community member Bosco Wisum died during the clashes after receiving the impact of a bullet.

This suspension is one of 13 other radio frequencies [es] that were recently notified by CONATEL that they were being taken off the air.

Although the legal battle will be decided in Ecuadorian courts, the Shuar community is fighting for their radio frequency. The SUPERTEL is the watchdog of the CONATEL and they issue three kinds of concessions for radio frequencies: public, commercial, and communitarian. The Shuar believe they provide a community service by airing messages in their own language to a poor community where TV and electric power is almost unknown. They say that even when Arutam was issued a license as a commercial frequency [es], they still acted as a community service station allowing thousands of their people to communicate with others through the use of simple messages, a view shared by Diana Atamaint, the Assemblywoman for Morona Santiago [es]. For example, to notify family members that one has arrived successfully to his or her destination after traveling on car, canoe or by foot for long hours[es], the Shuar use the Voice of Arutam channels to pass along this information.

Lourdes Tiban is an Assemblywoman for Cotopaxi, a province with an a large indigenous population. On her blog, she writes about her discomfort about the double-discourse in the Arutam case because the government said that Radio Arutam is commercial, and not a community radio station. She calls this a “cowardly justification”:

No está en discusión el carácter de la Radio Arutam. Está en riesgo la libertad de expresión, el derecho colectivo de la nación shuar de tener su medio de comunicación como herramienta ganada, no como dádiva de algún gobierno. Es una forma cobarde de amedrentar para callar a los indígenas que se revelaron contra la “revo”. Es más toda radio comunitaria debe ser comercial, porque ¿quién va a financiar la sobre vivencia de un medio de comunicación? Los fines y los objetivos deben ser sociales, culturales y comunitarios. El carro de los periodistas comunitarios no andan con agua, la barriguita no es de trapo, ellos van a comer como cualquier otro periodista o comunicador. No me vengan con cantinfladas de que es comercial cerremos no mas, cierren todas las comerciales y está justificado.

Radio Arutam's classification is not under discussion. What is at stake is freedom of expression, the collective right of the Shuar nation to have won the means of communication as a tool, not as some government handout. It is a cowardly way to intimidatingly silence the Indigenous who rebelled against the “revolution.” In addition, all community radio stations should be commercial, because who will finance the survival of a media outlet? The aims and objectives should be social, cultural, and communitarian in nature. The vehicle of the community journalists does not run on water, their stomach is not made out of cloth, they will eat the same as any other journalist or communicator. Don't justify it by saying that you'll close it because it is commerical, close all of the commercial radio stations and then it will be justified.

Mario Melo is a professor and works as legal adviser of the Pachamama Foundation. In the blog of Servindi [es], he thinks there are plenty of political reasons to close down Arutam but the legal argument for closing the station is clearly despicable. He says, “if a station transmits an interview or point of view from identified or identifiable people, what they say is their responsibility.”, not the radio station.

Arutam is not the only radio station in Morona Santiago. There are others like La Bonita, Morona and La Voz del Upano. However, the Shuar indicate that if the decision stands, then they will take matters to the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights and even broadcast clandestinely [es].


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