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This is a project presented by Steve Buckley, from Community Media Solutions at the WFMF (World Free Media Forum) between the 24th and 30th of March in Tunis, Tunisia. He has been working on the development of a regional network of community media, especially radios in the whole Arabic world.

The inspiration behind the project, he declared at the opening of the debate, comes from the independent media which had a decisive role in the ongoing revolutions in the region. Amongst them he mentioned Radio 6 FM, in Tunisia, community radios in Benghazi (Libya) and many other projects initiated in Syria. About the latter, where the population has been fighting for the last two years against the dictatorship of Bashar el Assad, Buckley affirmed there is a “very dynamic situation for the rights to communication”.   

The plan instigated by the English communication activist has been giving results.  “We started in 2011 with pilot radios in seven countries and today we have three more projects.” In Syria there are four of them in the regions liberated by the revolutionaries. “The community radios there are very important, because the digital media is controlled by the government.” Buckley guarantees that today, including Libya, there are more than one hundred community radios “that started after the Arabic revolutions.” In the west of the country, where the masses overthrew the Dictator Muammar Gaddafi, there is a radio ran by the Berber speaking people, an Arabic dialect that was prohibited for 42 years whilst the dictator was in power. Besides having the space to express their own culture, the radio brings political and social issues too, said its representative at the WFMF. The speech was given during the second day of the Forum, which received a standing ovation in solidarity with the initiative, along with other testimonies from media activists from the region.  

The following countries are also integrated in the radio network: Tunisia, Jordan, Egypt, Yemen, Morocco, Algeria, Bahrain and occupied Palestine. In the later, according to the reports, exist four projects, including one in a village close to Al Khalid (Hebron). In this city, located in the West Bank – an area under the military control of Israel – there are Zionist settlements built over Palestinian houses and commerce. The illegal settlers throw trash onto the heads of the Arab residents, who rely on a suspended net put there by NGO´s to protect themselves.

In several countries of the region there are lots of challenges facing the struggle for the right to information and freedom of expression. Buckley says, for example, that in Tunisia, after the fall of Ben Ali more than two years ago, still persists a public blockade.

“After the 2011 elections (won by the Islamic party Enahda), three important laws were presented: for the right of access to information, freedom of press and an independent system of regulation of radio networks. Yet, only the first one has started to be implemented.” In Egypt, although eight TV broadcasters have been opened after the fall of Dictator Hosni Mubarak in February 2011, the civil society still doesn´t have space in these means of communicating, which are occupied by the big corporations. He is categorical: “It’s necessary to carry on with the development of the movement.”

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This is corroborated by the Tunisian blogger Bessem Krifa. Krifa, arrested and tortured during Ben Ali´s dictatorship for sending the world an outcry for political freedom, reveals an intention to form a bloggers association of the youth to strengthen the fight for freedom of speech. One of the accusations made by the activist is that “in the 2011 elections, at the ballot box people were given money to vote in Enahda. We shot this.” Taking advantage of the poverty and inequality that is rife in Tunisia, they used this to manipulate people to get in power, he asserts. He concludes: “Capitalism is the biggest problem. Only when we win and get to socialism we’ll have full democratic freedoms.”

Translated by Beatriz de Campos.