2003-03-23 – there is a meeting on Information & Communication Technology (ICT) for Development in Berne (CH) on the 26th, organized by BAKOM and DEZA (the federal office for communication and the Swiss agency for development and cooperation). I am trying to attend.

2003-03-13 – I went to a preparatory meeting for United Nations WorldSummitOnTheInformationSociety (WSIS) organized by ’Brot für alle’ [1] and ’Fastenopfer’ [2], two christian development NGOs, one protestant, one catholic. They are part of a Swiss plattform which wrote a Declaration of Principles and Plan of Action for the World Summit on the Information Society [3].

Guillaume Chenevière, director of the ’Conseil Mondial de Radio-Television’ [4], spoke of the importance of the radio and television as service publique.

The term ’service publique’ is something not well known outside of Europe: It applies to services financed by the public, but not under direct control of the state. The state just sets some goals but does not interfere in the day-to-day business. Usually this is handled via a concession: The Swiss Post gets a monopoly on a certain service (delivery of letters and parcels below 2kg, at the moment), if and only if the Swiss Post provides its service to everybody, including people living in remote valleys where an ordinary company would close all offices. The reason the organisation is not state-controlled is that the media need independence from the government. Too many radion and television stations are just the propaganda vehicles of the government. The ’service publique’ framework allows for a working compromise. Of course the state will want to change the concession from time to time, so in general terms the public is in control of the service via the government. But the control has a certain leeway and delay built in.

Victor van Oeyen, one of the founders of CRIS Bolívia, talked about the importance of community media, and community radio in particular. The Communications Rights in the Information Society (CRIS) is a campaign to ensure that communication rights are central to the information society and to the upcoming world summit.[5] Van Oeyen deplores the concentration of the media in the hands of a few, and the mixture of economical, political, and media power, due to liberalization.

On the other hand, van Oeyen reports that Bolivia has massive experience with community media. Due to illiteracy and language barriers (not all people speak Spanish!) local community radio is the primary mass media in Bolivia. For the eight million people, there are around 650 radio stations. Some are owned by politicians, but hundreds are community owned. The main goal these radios have is legalization; the government often imposes drastic limitations. And yet these radio stations provide the local information people need, in the language people understand.

What is required, therefore, is this:

  1. community ownership
  2. local content
  3. appropriate technology (eg. radio, at the moment)
  4. language and cultural pertinence
  5. technical convergence (eg. use the Internet to support radio, since the Internet will not replace radio for some years to come)

Note that the difficulties of community based radio are common. In Brazil these radio stations should limit themselves to a radius of 1km. But this is not only a problem for the developping countries. In the US, radio frequencies need to be licenced. This costs money, therefore you need to make money using ads, and immediately the radio is no longer independent. In Switzerland, the federal office [6] provides allowed exactly one community radio for Zürich [7] and one community radio for Bern.

This is where Lawrence Lessig’s idea of “spectrum” comes into play again. He wrote in his book The Future Of Ideas [8] about licensing spectrum – and what an alternative could be like: Open Spectrum [9][10].

I wonder what we could to do promote Open Spectrum. FIXME: I must send some mail to the federal office for communications...


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