Mixed Media / Medios Enteros
Broadcasting and the Internet in Latin America and the Caribbean
September 23 and 24, 2000

The seminar Mixed Media / Medios Enteros was held immediately before the annual conference of the International Institute of Communications. On September 28 the seminar report was delivered to an IIC plenary session. The report was in three parts.

The introduction, by Joan Belfon of Jamaica's Vocational Training Development Institute, outlined the seminar objectives and the key issues that were discussed and described the strategies that were identified.

Seminar organiser and co-chair, Bruce Girard, gave a paper entitled Digital Multiplication: Radio, the Internet, development and democracy in Latin America and the Caribbean. The paper described the current situation and recent developments affecting radio and the Internet in the region and described three ways that independent and community-based radio stations are using the Internet to support their work in favour of development, democracy and regional integration.

Finally, María Suárez of the the Costa Rica-based Feminist International Radio Endeavour - FIRE - gave a speech entitled The Relevance of "RADIO.ORG" in Today's Virtual and Real World.

All of the presentations were supported by a slide show prepared by José Antonio Cardoso.


Joan Belfon
VTDI, Jamaica

We are in a very exciting period of a technological revolution. But, technologies are really survival tools to serve the needs of people.

The Caribbean and Latin America as a developing region is particularly interested in the new technologies that can help our local communities to leap-frog into development without having to pause to reinvent the wheel.

Twenty-six participants from 14 countries in the region, plus Canada, the Netherlands and Switzerland, representing community and independent broadcasting media met to consider the subject of broadcasting and the Internet and the key issues confronting the media in this mix/this relationship.

The main objectives of the conference were

  • To examine the existing situation regarding the use of the internet in the region with emphasis on emerging networks and exchanges; next generation radio- its focus; globalization and the opportunities/threats to local media
  • New possibilities for collaboration among independent broadcasters through internet, networking, programme exchange, sharing information about innovations in internet use by radio stations
  • To determine a set of short/medium term actions to enable broadcasters to make more effective use of the internet (in particular)
  • To put independent broadcasting and the Internet on the agenda of networks, information providers, donors, researchers and communities to encourage new and productive partnerships.
  • Key Issues

    The pre-conference identified specific issues confronting this convergence for the attention of the regional and international media community

  • Access –still one of the biggest issues facing the region
  • Frequency challenges
  • Controls, legislation, restrictions (the right policies, right regulations can make a critical difference to development; regulatory mistakes can retard/stagnate development)
  • Strategies

    The group also identified some strategies to begin addressing these concerns most of which hinge on

  • training in the use of the technologies and techniques of networking.
  • Expansion of communication access of local communities through the establishment of community multimedia systems
  • Most of all to utilize the media to maintain the democracy of communication and broadcasting, especially public service broadcasting and the internet
  • To give a public voice to those presently excluded and to ensure that the voice of broadcasting in the Caribbean and Latin America is heard not only in global communications fora but in global trade fora.
  • In this presentation you will see snapshots of the way the Internet has already been commandeered by radio and television broadcasters to service the changing needs of communities in the region especially in Latin America.

    Digital Multiplication: Radio, the Internet, development and democracy in Latin America and the Caribbean
    Speech delivered by Bruce Girard
    to the 31st Annual IIC Conference
    28 September 2000
    Tampa, Florida

    Before explaining what I mean by digital multiplication, I'd like to take a few minutes to describe the current situation of independent and community-based radio and of the Internet in the region.


    In North America and Europe, we take radio for granted. As one of the seminar participants said, to a North American, a radio is something that you get for free when you buy a car.

    In Latin America and the Caribbean the situation is different and radio is the most readily available, the most accessible, the most affordable and the most flexible mass medium.

    In almost all countries of the region, radio reaches 90% or more of households - an effective infrastructure that would be the envy of any telecommunications company in a region where teledensity is often less than 10%.

    The vast majority of radio programming is produced locally or nationally, and thus radio interprets the world from the perspective of its community and in the languages and accents of that community. And that doesn't only include the official or majority languages. Quechua, the most important indigenous language in the region, is spoken by some 10 million people in Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru, and yet is virtually absent from television and the Internet. But There are 180 radio stations in Peru alone with regular programming in Quechua.

    Only 30% of Latin America's television is produced in the region, with only a small part of that being local production. 62% of it is imported from the United States.

    I think it's important to note that radio is used very differently in Latin America and the Caribbean than it is in North America and Europe.

    In addition to its news, information and entertainment programming, radio often fulfills a role as a sort of community telephone, with several hours a day reserved for broadcasting messages intended for only one person or perhaps a family or a small group of people. When you don't have a telephone, you get a message to the radio station to announce births and deaths, to invite people to a party, to order supplies from the village, or to call for emergency medical assistance.

    For most farmers, radio is the only source of information about market prices for their crops, and thus the only defense they have against speculators.

    Radio is used to reinforce the messages of community agricultural and health education programs. It plays an important role in preserving language and culture. It can reinforce demands for greater accountability and transparency of governments and corporations alike.

    I don't want to paint too rosy a picture. There are also a number of problems.

    1. Latin America and the Caribbean have never had a history of European style public service radio or television. State broadcasters tend to be either very weak and under-funded, or to be clearly under the control of the party in power. This doesn't mean that the public service function of broadcasting has been completely ignored. Some independent commercial broadcasters with a real base in their communities have tried to fulfill the public service function and there is a growing movement of community-based broadcasters that see public service as a priority.

    2. There is a trend toward greater concentration of media ownership in the hands of a few multi-media companies with holdings in radio, television, print and Internet. These companies are buying up local radio stations and connecting them to nation-wide satellite networks with centrally-produced programming. The result is that a resident of Cajamarca in the Central Andean region of Peru, finds it easier to get information about weather and traffic in Lima, than about issues and events taking place in Cajamarca.

    3. Many radio stations do a very poor job of informing their listeners of regional and international news, even while globalisation is making this an increasingly important task. Most radio stations get their regional and international news from newspapers (which get it from US or Europe-based news agencies) or they get it from CNN and other satellite television stations. To Ecuadorians, for example, Colombia is a very important country. Colombia's economic conditions, politics, and culture all have tremendous impact on the much smaller Ecuador. But what do you hear when you turn on the radio or television news? That the United States has a domestic drug problem that it can't handle.

    Together these problems are a serious threat to the pluralism of Latin American broadcasting and to the diversity of voices and perspectives that are heard in the public sphere.


    The situation of the Internet is very different. According to some estimates there are 360 million Internet users in the world. Some estimate more and others less, but all of them concur in one important fact - the vast majority, somewhere around 70%, are in North America and Western Europe, home to barely 10% of the world's population. In Latin America and the Caribbean, home to 7% of the world's population, you will only find 4% of the world's Internet users - which is much better than South Asia, where among almost a quarter of humanity, there are less 1% of the Internet users.

    Neilson estimates that 52% of US households have Internet access.

    In Latin America only Uruguay reaches 10% and in Bolivia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Paraguay less than 1% of the population has access.

    In the Caribbean many of the smaller islands have between 5 and 10% of the population online, but Cuba, Dominican Republic, Guyana and Haiti all have less than 1%.

    Even for those who are online, much of the Internet is virtually inaccessible because only a small percentage of the contet is in the main languages of the region. 86% of the world's web pages are in English.

    Internet is used in a very different way in Latin America and the Caribbean than in the United States. According to one survey, US Internet users are now using computers more during prime time than they are using televisions. We are not likely to see this happen in Latin America and the Caribbean where the Internet is accessed from the office, from universities, and from telecentres and cybercafes, where computers with Internet access are available for an hourly fee.

    The different way Internet is accessed in Latin America means that North American style webcasting doesn't have much of a future in the region.

    Digital multiplication

    That's the context, and more than half what I am going to say. The challenge that we took on during our two days of meetings was to look at how independent, public-service and community-based radio and television are making use of the Internet in a new kind of convergence that is addressing the digital divide with a tactic of multiplying the effectiveness of the limited Internet access that we do have.

    In the same way that a single telecentre with a few computers can multiply the number of people connected by a factor of 20 or more, giving accesss to hundreds of people with only a dozen computers, a radio station with tens of thousands of listeners that makes active use of the Internet can greatly multiply the impact of its Internet connection as one way of addressing the problem of the digital divide.

    This doesn't mean that you can surf via the radio, but the objective is to ensure wider public access to at least some of the information and communication possibilities offered by the Internet. During the seminar we looked at a number of experiences in which radio and television broadcasters are making use of the Internet in their efforts to promote development and democracy, to ensure a greater plurality of voices on the airwaves, and to in a significant way address the information divide. We were able to group the projects we heard about into three main types: networks, gateways, and communication with emigrant communities.


    Radio stations, and to a lesser extent television stations, are using the Internet to enable them to set up networks for exchanging news and programmes and to help them and their communities organise campaigns. The Agencia Informativa Púlsar is one of the first and most important examples of this. Púlsar began in 1996 by sending a daily regional news bulletin to 48 radio stations via the Internet. The first bulletins were text only, but written in radio style. Now Púlsar offers a number of different services, including audio clips in MP3 format to more than 2,000 subscribers in more than 50 countries worldwide.

    Radio stations also use the Internet to help communities organise around global issues. One prominent example is the leadup to the recent Beijing Plus 5 coference in which women in Latin America and the Caribbean were able to coordinate their input to the conference using radio stations connected to the Internet.


    Radio stations also serve as gateways to the Internet. In this role they are part search-engine, part librarian and part journalist, sifting through the tetra-bytes of data to find information that is useful to their communities and then interpreting it - making useful information meaningful.

    Radio Yungas, a rural station in Bolivia is one example. The station has a daily program in which listeners send in their questions. The answers used to come from the 15 year-old encyclopedia in the town library, but now they come from the Internet. When a local farmer sent in a description of an unknown worm that was eating his crops, Yungas sent the message out to a specialised electronic list. Six hours later they had an answer from a Swede, a leading worm expert, in which he identified the worm and explained how to deal with it. The answer was broadcast to the entire community, and we can be sure that the farmer with the question was not the only one with the worm problem.

    Communication with emigrants

    Emigration is one of the consequences of globalisation. Ten percent of the population of Ecuador has emigrated in the last two years, mostly to the United States and Spain.

    There are more Jamaicans living in the United States and Britain than in Jamaica.

    Local radio stations are webcasting their programming, not to reach local audiences, who don't have access to the Internet, but to maintain relations between local communities and the family members who have left for political or economic reasons. Radio stations like Ondas Azuayas in southern Ecuador, not only keep families together, they help maintain the ties that later lead to economic investment in local business and to development of national economies.

    By way of conclusion and clarification, none of us think that we have found a magic solution to the problems of the digital divide. However, by reinforcing local radio stations, by giving local communities access to the Internet's information resources, and by helping preserve family and commuity ties in this globalised era, we are helping communities get informed and organised and hopefully better able to address the problems of the global consumer divide that Professor Cees Hamelink spoke of yesterday.

    Thank you.


    The Relevance of "RADIO.ORG" in Today's Virtual and Real World.

    Speech delivered by María Suárez of FIRE on behalf of Latin American and Caribbean independent broadcasters at the 31st annual conference of the IIC 
    Tampa, Florida, September 28, 2000.

    What you have heard in this small room in this corner of Florida during the last 20 minutes is simultaneously being streamed to the world via WEBCASTING.

    Anyone who has clicked in to Feminist International Radio Endeavour's (FIRE) Web radio at www.fire.or.cr in the Internet is listening to it together with you who are sitting here.

    Immediately after this presentation, the Webcast will be converted into a permanent sound file that can be heard upon demand by other Internet listeners.

    At the same time, local radio stations and other media anywhere can download the sound files and re-broadcast them for audiences that do not have Internet access (which, by the way, amount to most people in the world.)

    The inverse process is also possible, and is actually being done by many independent broadcasters in Latin America and the Caribbean: radio broadcasts are being simultaneously webcast, picked up by other radio stations, by satellite, etc., being picked up by Internet listeners at the same time as radio audiences. The multiplying effect is almost indefinite, like the sound waves themselves.


    1. It has allowed women and men who are excluded from electronic media to have a voice in it, and have their voices multiplied to other venues around the globe, while also allowing them to have access to what is in the Internet.

    2. It has also re-connected communities that have been dismembered by forced migration, by allowing them to interact inexpensively with their relatives and neighbours back home through Internet broadcasts of their local radio stations, and viceversa.

    3. It has facilitated the construction of new international communities of interest as is the global women's movement in its use of radio and the Internet to influence the global agenda on behalf of their human rights. By combining local radio broadcasts picked up internationally by other media, Webcasting from the UN in Internet to be picked up by other media locally, regionally and internationally; doing interactive TV and Tele-conferencing, and multiplying them though electronic networks in their own hands, they were able to mobilise thousands of women to influence the most recent UN General Assembly even though only a few were physically present at its headquarters in New York.

    4. Indigenous and other communities have undertaken similar experiences.

    In synthesis, this creative combination has strengthened the role that community and citizen's radio and independent broadcasters have played in democratising communication by expressing the plurality of voices, genders, cultures and human rights values that civil society has maintained in this globalise world.

    I want leave you with one last thought:

    Someone said yesterday that if we were to breach the digital divide without addressing other inequities, we would end up with a global mall where only 20% of the population can buy, and the rest will be there, but only to watch.

    Community and independent broadcasters are here to say that working to breach the divide by democratising media and affirming universal human rights in our societies will contribute to allow all of us to be able to be in a world where the mall will be one place among many.

    A world where some of those other places will be spaces we might all want: safe homes, safe jobs, good health, safe lives, stable societies and sustainable communities based on the respect of human rights, secure and environmentally sound recreational spaces, and families with a future beyond their closed doors.

    The logic of the market should not clash with the logic of human rights, lest we end up with none of the above. Let's work together towards a human centred development, each one from where she or he is at!

    Thank you.