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Mexico’s Supreme Court Hands Indigenous Peoples Landmark Victory in Media Representation

Text reads, “Me versus Linguistic Discrimination. No to Article 230 of the Federal Telecommunications and Broadcasting Law.” Image: poet Mardonio Carballo / Facebook

Text reads, “Me versus Linguistic Discrimination. No to Article 230 of the Federal Telecommunications and Broadcasting Law.” Image: poet Mardonio Carballo / Facebook

On January 20, 2016, Mexico's Supreme Court, the highest judicial body in the nation, ruled in a decision that favors the rights of indigenous peoples and communities in Mexican media outlets and recognizes the country's linguistic diversity, by declaring unconstitutional the following passage from Article 230 in the Federal Telecommunications and Broadcasting Law (with translation):

Artículo 230. En sus transmisiones, las estaciones radiodifusoras de los concesionarios deberán hacer uso del idioma nacional. Lo anterior, sin perjuicio de que adicionalmente las concesiones de uso social indígena hagan uso de la lengua del pueblo originario que corresponda. […]

Article 230. In their transmissions, licensed broadcast channels shall use the national language. The foregoing is without prejudice to the use of the corresponding language of indigenous peoples in additional licenses for indigenous social use. […]

In a unanimous vote, the Supreme Court justices invalidated this part of the law, ruling, on the one hand, that the law does not recognize the enormous diversity of national languages that are spoken in Mexico, and, on the other hand, that it limits the use of native languages for indigenous and community broadcasters and therefore infringes on indigenous communities’ freedom of expression.

According to the court's statement:

De esta manera, la decisión de la Primera Sala de la Suprema Corte reconoce el derecho de las personas indígenas de acceder efectivamente a las concesiones comerciales y transmitir su invaluable identidad cultural, sin que su lengua constituya un obstáculo para ello.

Thereby, the decision of the First Chamber of the Supreme Court recognizes the right of indigenous peoples to access commercial licenses effectively and to broadcast their invaluable cultural identity, without their languages posing any obstacle.

The judgement was the result of a lawsuit filed by the renowned indigenous writer, poet, and journalist, Mardonio Carballo, who initiated the legal battle against the law in 2014.

In his December 2015 newspaper column in La Jornada, Carballo shared some of his motives for taking a stand against the article's contents:

[…] quien estas líneas escribe –impulsor del uso de las lenguas originarias en los medios de comunicación masivos– se puso en alerta, e interpuso una demanda de amparo contra este artículo para proteger su derecho individual –como escritor, poeta y periodista indígena, hablante del náhuatl– de poder expresarse en su lengua en cualquier radiodifusora, así como para proteger el derecho colectivo de los pueblos y comunidades indígenas para expresarse a través del espacio radioeléctrico mexicano y no únicamente en aquellas que sean concesionarias de uso social indígena.

[…] Un país que poco a poco logra hacerse visible en su multiculturalidad y pluriversos debe abrir, no cerrar. Debe incentivar la visibilización de los múltiples rostros que cada vez se ocultan menos o que cada vez son más difíciles de ocultar.

[…] the writer of these words—a strong proponent of the usage of indigenous languages in mass media channels—went on alert, and filed a lawsuit against this article to seek protection of the individual right—as an indigenous writer, poet and journalist, and speaker of the Náhuatl language—to be able to express oneself in one's own language through any broadcast means, as well as protection of the collective right of indigenous peoples and communities to express themselves on the Mexican airwaves, and not solely through those licensed for indigenous social use.

[…] A country that, little by little, is gaining visibility in its multiculturalism and pluralism should open wider, not close off. It should encourage greater visibility of the many faces that are hiding themselves less, or that are increasingly harder to hide.

At the same time, he announced the creation of the collective Artists Against Linguistic Discrimination:

Para que esto ocurra lo tenemos que exigir juntos. Los necesitamos, nos necesitamos. México nos necesita, incluidos a los pueblos de más antes y sus lenguas representadas en todos los medios de comunicación mexicanos. Eso es un derecho irrenunciable. Están todos invitados. Artistas contra la Discriminación Lingüística, título de esta entrega, es un colectivo que pretende sumar. Esté atento.

For this [pluralism] to happen we have to demand it together. We need all of you, we need all of us. Mexico needs us, including our native peoples and languages to be represented in all Mexican media outlets. It is an irrevocable right. All are invited. Artists Against Linguistic Discrimination, the title of this release, is a collective that aims to add on. Be on the lookout.

The following video from the collective highlights the group's central objective:

Nunca más un México sin nosotros en los medios de comunicación.

Never again a Mexico without us in its media.

With this month's court ruling, it seems the movement's time and efforts against linguistic discrimination have finally borne fruit. Undoubtedly, the Supreme Court's decision represents a breakthrough for the human rights of indigenous peoples and communities in Mexico—specifically their rights to freedom of expression, freedom to participate in cultural life, and freedom from discrimination.

On Twitter, Carballo put his poetry to use and celebrated the watershed moment in Mexican media:

RTplis [Retweet please]: We win 5-0. Ruling of @SCJN [the National Supreme Court of Justice] grants us protection vs Article 230 of the #LeyTelecom [#Telecommunications Act] we set a precedent #todaslaslenguasentodoslosmedios [#all languages in all media]

Our work building bridges across cultures, languages and perspectives is more urgent than ever before.

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