Carmen Lara, maker of the controversial 'Silenced Voices Documentary about media repression in Mexico. (Photo courtesy of Perodico Digital)

Carmen Lara, maker of the controversial ‘Silenced Voices’ Documentary about media repression in Mexico. (Photo courtesy of Perodico Digital)

 The Mexican government has filed criminal charges this week against the community radio station Tierra y Libertad (Land and Liberty) of Monterrey in Northern Mexico. It has been charged with operating clandestinely as reported by La Jornada. The charge could lead to a 12-year jail sentence and a $100,000 fine. This has generated widespread criticism from several Mexican and international organizations working for freedom of expression. The editor of the paper El Correo de Oaxaca has argued that “Independent journalism has become impossible” in the southern state. He says Oaxaca follows a “systematic repressive policy” to silence critics and opponents of the state government. This publication was followed by his house being attacked with a Molotov cocktail last week. He escaped unharmed but argues that the government is using intimidation tactics to control what the paper publishes.


The Mexican chapter of the World Association of Community Radio (AMARC) are also fighting back against the government and warn that this is “the beginning of a more repressive and persecutorial policy” by authorities against the community stations. They fear that this will deprive marginal and rural communities both the access and right to communication. These stations operate in indigenous and rural areas and one of their salient objectives is to facilitate conflict resolution between between indigenous and non-indigenous communities. The stations are ran by AMARC-Mexico and describe them as ‘agents of peace’.


Increasing tensions both between and within local communities, mainly over environmental resources and profound economic disparities, in recent years have led some scholar to argue that Mexico is in social crisis. Community radio is used as a form of dialogue between conflicting groups and acts as a ‘agent of peace’. In terms of the wider theoretical debate, the University for Peace have recently published a book analyzing the issues of the media in relation to conflict and peace. It concludes that the media can exert a decisive influence ‘constructive or polarizing’ in any given situation. In the case of Mexico, many fear that without community radio, and its role as a mediator in conflict, social instability may reach crisis levels.

This all comes after the mid-year meeting in of the Inter American Press Association in Paraguay warned that press freedom has deteriorated rapidly in Latin America in the last six months.  You can see the report and its resolutions in full here.  In addition, state enforced censorship of media is exacerbated by attacks by criminal organizations on journalists. This intimidation has in effect led to self-censorship as well.

This follows the government seizure of equipment from another Mexican radio station, Tu Voz en la Radio (Your Voice on the Radio). This shows that even if participatory communication projects, such as community radio, adopt an autonomous, bottom up and enthnographic approach, the government can always exert their powers to control what is broadcast. Martín-Barbero (2006) argues that communication and cultural industries can be used as a matrix for both the disruption and reorganization of the social experience. In the case of mexico, the government are standing in the way of any kind of social cohesion through the media by its censorship methods. This limits the effectiveness of schemes like this throughout Latin America. Community radio programmes, as well as acting as a means of non-violent conflicit resolution, also disseminate vital information and education about issues surrounding rural development, access to agricultutral markets and improved farming techniques. However, even broadcasts like this are sometimes censoprship if they do not criticise or go against the government’s agricultural policy.


This is just one example of the worrying erosion of media freedom in Mexicoand Latin America as a whole. Media imperialism and the modernisation paradigm are still widely operational in Latin America and dis-empower marginalised communities; whilst giving them a glimpse of media freedom they are always kept on a tight leash. Communication strategies in Latin America are dictated by the government’s agenda and re-inforce state objectives. Autonomous and community based communication scheme are repressed by the state and forced into self-censorship; a documentary called “Silenced Voices” by Maria del Carmen Lara  reiterates this erosion of media fredom. The documentary, which screened this week in Mexico City, argues that attacks on reporters and intimidation from the govement have made Mexican journalism cease to be real and truthful. It is hard to see how in this climate of government media censorship any community based communication projects can function without state interference.