Feb 26 2013


Published by at 10:36 am under Articles,Media Activism

By Daoud Kuttab

Amazing what a difference a year can make. Last year we met in Tunis and signed agreements with young activists in various countries to do what seemed the impossible. Defy the logic that has prevailed in the Arab world namely that it is easier to change governments and bring down dictators than it is to change a media regulatory system.

But in one year we are seeing ordinary people regain their voice, sit behind microphones, answer phones of their own public and broadcast whatever their own local communities wanted to hear and talk about.

It wasn’t easy, it took courage, strong will and an unshakable belief in the simple right that is expressed in the 19th article of the Universal declaration of Human rights-

Everyone has the right to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

This clause applies to everyone of us and we are committed to work tirelessly to ensure that right is reached and that people are allowed to enjoy an enabling legal and administrative environment that allows individuals and groups to set up their local community based radio stations.

In one year we have seen the government of Yemen retract from its closed policy to allow the existence of privately owned radio stations and to set up a commission to create a much more open audio visual law.

We have seen Amazire people in Libya own and operate freely a radio station in Yervan that speaks their language, plays their songs- a feat the was impossible for over 40 years under Qaddafi.

We are seeing a proliferation of internet radio stations in Egypt and we are seeing more and more creative examples of people turn Internet radio into a living interactive creature.

The slogan of our conference is Channeling our voices. We want to see more channels opened and our voices heard. We will not be quite as a leading country like Egypt denied 83 million people the right enshrined in the 19th article while some wealthy companies are allowed a single license for a privately owned station?

To accomplish our goal we are working on different levels. We will work simultaneously on the legal front as well as on the practical front. We will not wait for laws to change and regulations to be in place before launching  any medium we are able to create that will allow us to channel our voices. Where possible we will go on FM, where difficult we will go on satellite (we own and operate a satellite channel on Nile sate called Aswatona) and in all cases we will broadcast on the internet.

We know the laws in the Arab world are restrictive. We have studied and we will show in this conference how dangerous, complicated and criminal it is to channel your voices through radio. We have studied the legal situation and we are now poised to begin the process of campaigning to change these laws and practices that are contrary to international law and treaties and are against the spirit of the Arab spring which was founded on the right of expression.

On the practical level we will provide anyone interested with the tool to channel their voices. Our website Aswaton.net has simple guides to those wanting to start a community radio station from scratch. Our trainers will be available to come and conduct an onsite training workshop and we are looking for ways to entertain internships in existing radio stations for those wanting to learn how to do it.

We want to also develop those of you who have already started by helping you learn more about areas of financial sustainability and fundraising. We are keen on networking and learning from each other.

This conference is mean to inspire you to do more and to spread the community radio virus in your town, country and region. We will hear case studies of successful radio projects and learn from activists who have started their stations how they overcame legal and administrative obstacles.

Aswatona is an organic movement that came from people in the Arab world who have dared to dream and acted on their dreams. It wouldn’t have happened in this size and at this speed had it not been for others who have shared our dreams and joined us in turning these universal rights of expression into a vibrant and real process. I am grateful to the Swedish people and their expression of generosity through SIDA by supporting us. Our partner in aswatona  steve buckly and his Community Media Solutions have allowed aswatona to reach countries and follow up on challenges that we were not able to. The support from the Commonwealth office in this regard is well appreciated.

I thank all of you for coming and I am certain that this will be a fruitful, enjoyable and enriching experience.

I know it is late and you are all tired but I would like to suggest that for the next ten minutes we give a chance to any of you who has a question or inquiry about our work and goal to address us. Please limit your questions to issues of general concern and not any specific logistical or administrative issue which I am sure our great and able Haytham Jaber would happily answer to you directly.

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