Mexico’s Independent Media Crackdown Threatens Indigenous Radio in Oaxaca

Oaxacan, Mexico (GVO) – The Mexican government has, once again, limited indigenous peoples’ access to their own information media.

In this instance, federal authorities acted against four community radio stations located in the Isthmus of Tehuántepec, a Oaxacan region where community radio plays a fundamental role by, among other things, providing indigenous communities access to information in their own languages and in an oral format—something fundamental in rural zones where illiteracy is not uncommon. Likewise, due to the fact that they do not require great startup or operating costs, community radio stations enable community participation in issues of collective interest, promoting these peoples’ cultural identity.

In this way, community radio plays a social and political role of great importance in this and other rural regions of Mexico, as a statement issued by community radio station Regeneración Radio in 2013 exhibits:

Faced with the invasion of transnational businesses inflicted upon the native peoples of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, Oaxaca, community radio has been a fundamental medium of information for territorial defense, which has caused the wind energy companies and their local chieftain accomplices as well as government officials to develop an aggressive campaign of repression over the last few months seeking to silence this voice.

Currently, this strategy also serves political interests linked to Mexico’s recent elections, according to La verdad del Istmo, la voz ciudadana (The Isthmus Truth, Voice of the Citizens):

[The intention is for community radio] not to make known the critical and precarious situation the Istmo de Tehuantepec Region is experiencing, such as the mishandling of funds, money laundering, executions, kidnappings, armed assaults, and organized crime, in favor of the federal government.

This is particularly relevant in the context of communications in Mexico, where due to the great media concentration enjoyed by conglomerates like Televisa and TV Azteca, there are few outlets for autonomous and independent media and, consequently, limited diversity and a lack of plurality when it comes to the news. In this way, commercial interests wield particularly damaging influence over traditional outlets like radio and television, imposing certain editorial lines on Mexico’s biggest media companies (often in ways that benefit the political strategies of the country’s powerful.

Indigenous Mexico. Image Source: Artotem, flickr, Creative Commons

Indigenous Mexico.
Image Source: Artotem, flickr, Creative Commons

In the latest example of this phenomenon, the Mexican Attorney General’s Office carried out raids in late May on three indigenous radio stations operating in Salina Cruz, dismantling La Explosiva 93.7 FM, Stéreo 99.9 FM, and La Joya 106.1 FM, as well as a fourth station in Santo Domingo Tehuantepec, La Joya 107.5 FM.

During the raids, federal agents decommissioned the radio stations’ transmission equipment, even arresting Edwin Meneses, who owns and reports for BMM Noticias, and Samuel López, an announcer at the radio station Tehuantepec. Police accused both men of making illegal use of the radio-electric spectrum, according to the magazine Regeneración.

Both reporters were freed on May 21, after each paid a 70,000-peso ($4,500) bond. Their trials are still pending. According to news outlet Página 3:

Edwin Meneses and announcer Samuel López were held at the AG’s facilities for approximately twelve hours and they were only freed after paying bail; however, they must now be tried by an administrative judge in Mexico City for a federal crime.

In an interview, Edwin Meneses emphasized that his arrest was a “horrible” experience, because upon being arrested he was not allowed to make a single telephone call to anyone, let alone his family or any lawyer to help him.

Referring to his arrest, Edwin Meneses also stated:

AG agents arrived armed and ready to ram the door, and when I came out and identified myself, they said they had come for all the equipment. They took everything and then said that they were also taking me into custody. They wanted to handcuff me like a criminal, but I resisted and they cursed me. It was really a horrible experience that I would not wish on anyone.

According to a statement by Radio Comunitaria Ayuujk (Ayuujk Community Radio), the government dismantled another four community radio stations in the port of Salina Cruz and two in the City of Tehuantepec—all in a single month, last September. In November 2014, federal police decommissioned the equipment of community radio stations Órbita Digital, Radio Bola lari, and Estéreo Ranchu Gubiña. In light of these events, members of the Organización Istmeña de Radios Comunitarias (Isthmus Community Radio Organization) (OIRC) declared:

We are not criminals or blackmailers, but are devoted to providing information through diverse local and regional radiophonic programs. But we are aware that there are economic interests involved on the part of business owners who have monopolized the field and are not pleased that we have cut into their profits, and they are the ones who won’t give up. However, we tell them that we are in social resistance, and that’s why we won’t stop speaking out.

OIRC representative Rafael Chiñas Terán decried recent occurences and called on the federal government, addressing the Federal Institute of Telecommunications, to stop dismantling community radio stations in Oaxaca.