Learn more about Peltz-Steele v. UMass Faculty Federation at Court Listener (complaint) and the Liberty Justice Center. The case is now on appeal in the First Circuit as no. 22-1466 (PACER paywall). Please direct media inquiries to Kristen Williamson.

Wednesday, July 13, 2022

Inter-American Court heralds community radio as human right for indigenous Guatemalan broadcasters

Community radio in Colombia
(USAID CC BY-NC 2.0 via Flickr)
The Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR) ruled in October 2021 that the state of Guatemala violated the right of indigenous radio broadcasters by shutting them down for want of licenses.

In multiple raids, Guatemala confiscated broadcasting equipment from four "pirate," that is, unlicensed, community radio stations and, in some cases, criminally prosecuted the broadcasters.

The stations provided information, entertainment, and cultural programming in the Mayan communities they served. At least one station programmed in the Mayan language.

The stations were unable to afford state licensing fees, which awarded frequencies to high bidders. Of Guatemala's 424 licensed FM and 90 licensed AM radio stations, the IACtHR press release about the case said, only one served an indigenous community.

Historical, structural discrimination, besides plain economics, was keeping indigenous broadcasters off the air, the court opined. Though only four stations were at issue in the case, lawyers for the four said as many as 70 indigenous broadcasters in Guatemala stand to benefit.

The case is likely to have farther geographical impact, too, I suggest. In my experience in Central and South America, community radio is a vital force for cultural cohesion and preservation of indigenous culture and language, not only among Guatemalan Mayans. Indeed, the court's opinion is a valuable precedent elsewhere in the world, as community radio is an important cultural force in indigenous and minority communities on every populated continent.

The court ruled that the Guatemalan policy on access to the airwaves violated the freedom of expression, equal protection, and the right to participate in cultural life. The court ordered the government to refine the regulatory process to account specially for indigenous community access, to reserve part of the radio spectrum for indigenous community radio, to make licenses simple to obtain, and strike the relevant criminal convictions.

The IACtHR decision reversed the final disposition in the Guatemalan high court, WBUR reported.

Lawyers in the Human Rights and Indigenous Peoples Clinic at Suffolk Law School in Boston, Mass., participated in the case on behalf of the broadcasters.

The case is Pueblos IndĂ­genas Maya Kaqchikel de Sumpango v. Guatemala (IACtHR Oct. 6, 2021) (summary).

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