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Academic Katherine Reilly, assistant professor at the Communications School of Simon Fraser University, Canada, and Master´s Degree Student Belén Febres Cordero of the same university, have just published their paper "Real World Radio (2003-2013): the role of communication in resistance in the changing geopolitical framework of Latin America" (below, in Spanish).
After approximately two years of work, the researchers have circulated their study. Real World Radio (RWR), the web radio station of the environmental federation Friends of the Earth International, which focuses on the agenda of social movements, was the focus of Reilly and Febres’ attention. Their work allows us to understand RWR in detail: who uses RWR, where, with what purposes, main themes, contribution with social movements and organizations, potential, challenges, among other things. We are very pleased with the results and are very thankful for the study.
We conducted an interview with the two academics in charge of the paper, who live in Vancouver
RWR: Katherine, let´s start with you if that´s okay. Why were you interested in conducting this study?
K: I have been working on and studying Latin American processes of communication in resistance for a long time. For instance, in the 90s, I did research on the use of the internet by civil society organizations in the region and after the beginning of the new millennium I also did a large study about the Mesoamerican Peoples Forum, and in particular, around that time I was studying the building of open spaces by these regional forums. And what I have observed with these studies is how social movements use of communications resources changes according to the structure of political forces at each moment. For instance, before the year 2000, the region was infatuated with the Internet and in that moment it was all very novel. People were interested in knowing how to use the internet to build links between social movements and civil society organizations in the region. But after 2000, the interest in the use of the radio by social movements resurfaced. And this rediscovering of the radio corresponded with the resurfacing of the left-wing, which was part of the pink tide. So we see that there is a correspondence between the use of communications resources and the movements´ goals, their political situation, etc. Lately I have been interested in the global power shift, and in particular the change in how power is organized and reproduced in the global system. I believe that this represents a change at the level of opportunities and limitations that the peoples and countries have to go through. So I became interested in studying how communications resources are being used at the moment against these challenges of the global power shift. I´ll give you an example of this in Latin America. I think that extractivism in these last ten years is a very important thing to reflect upon in South America in terms of this global power shift, because it has to do with the boom of China as a world power and also with the global market crisis of 2008. So, the extractivism approach in South America, the work carried out by governments to promote extractivism through spaces such as UNASUR (the Union of South American Nations) for instance, is a reflection of larger global power shift processes. With this in mind, then, this paper aims to study communication in resistance in this moment, in these current times, to understand how the use of communications resources changes or doesn’t according to how power is organized at that moment.
RWR: Ok, Katherine. What you are saying about some of the Latin American processes in the framework of international geopolitics and also the role of communication in this reality is very accurate. So, following this line of thought, why did you choose RWR as the main focus of your research?
K: There are always choices. There are several organizations in South America that we could have studied in this case and, in fact, in the future, we would like to focus on other cases. But, to begin the study, Belen and I interviewed some communicators from the region and learned about RWR and its work. And we thought it was a very interesting organization to study in this framework, since it uses communications resources intensively in its work, and it works closely with social movements, it operates at local, regional and global level and it is strongly interested in the environment and the political economy of extractivism in South America. We thought it was the perfect subject for the study we had in mind. So, two years ago I wrote Jose (Elosegui, RWR journalist) and asked to talk to him and as we were speaking we realized that in fact it would be very interesting to collaborate in this research and exploration process.
RWR: Indeed. Belen, what are, in your opinion, the main features of this work?
B: Following what Katherine said, in this study we had the specific goal of understanding RWR´s context and how this context is related to the work you carry out and the roles you play. That´s why we focused on the themes covered by RWR and how these themes are addressed. And also how users use RWR´s products and how these are circulated in the region. Lastly, since RWR is an alternative medium, we were very interested in seeing what the differences were with traditional media. And to answer these questions, we had to follow several steps. First we identified some of RWR´s most important users and we interviewed them, mainly to know more about how they understand communication in resistance and how their work can contribute to this type of communication. These interviews provided a basis for us to analyze the themes covered by RWR in 2013 and how these materials are distributed. Then we analyzed the 50 most visited stories published on RWR´s website in 2013, in order to identify how RWR contributes to the generation and distribution of the themes that are more relevant for users and then we analyzed how these materials are circulated at regional level. Finally we compared the work produced by RWR with the work carried out by the dominant traditional media to see the differences in the news they cover and how they deal with the coverage of these events.
RWR: Thank you, Belen. I would like to take the opportunity to thank many social movements and organizations, especially from Latin America, who collaborated with this study and who kindly agreed to talk to you and answer your requirements so as to collaborate with this work, but also with our communication project. These organizations are our brothers and sisters and we work with them very often, so we would like to take this opportunity to thank them. In your opinion, what were the most important aspects to highlight about the use of RWR according to the research you conducted?
B: What you were saying Jose, the input provided by the people we interviewed was the main method we used to see how they value and use the services offered by RWR. And this is how we found that RWR is contributing in a large way to the work of movements and organizations. First of all, we saw that users consider RWR´s work is very important and use it to generate information about Latin America, which also contributes to the creation of links between social movements, struggles, against the difficulties suffered by the different communities and peoples, both within Latin America and at national level in the different countries of the region. Another important aspect we found is the joint creation of contents with movements and organizations. And in particular, the people we interviewed many times made reference to the concrete case of RWR offering capacity-building and technical support for movements and organizations. In this way, RWR contributes to the generation of a relevant communication that emerges from the needs of movements and organizations, and therefore responds to these needs and helps them express their ideas, proposals, initiatives and struggles to a wider audience. A third element we found important was that users effectively consider that the work carried out by RWR goes beyond what traditional media do and that these users value the fact that the information they find in RWR cannot be found in the same way in traditional media.
RWR: All right, Belen. This is particularly about the users and their use of RWR according to the research you carried out. Beyond that, but also linked with this, which were the four or five main themes you saw that were most important based on the results?
B: We found many interesting results and information, but we can highlight four of them. First of all, I´d say that RWR is a great asset in the region and it contributes greatly to the articulation of the networks at regional level. In this way, it contributes to the strengthening of the links between the movements, communities and alternative media in Latin America. In particular, some of the people we interviewed highlighted the case of Brazil, because they said that RWR contributes to getting Brazil closer to the rest of Latin America by producing stories about Brazil and also translating from and into Portuguese. A second important finding was that RWR is also focused on creating communication that serves as a tool for the resistance of the peoples and to denouncing the violations of the rights of communities and members of social movements. And also to a lesser extent, as information for the articulation and generation of alternatives and communication directly linked to the building of communications sovereignty. We could see some of these examples when analyzing the 50 most visited stories in 2013. When we analyzed these articles, we saw they were divided into two large groups. On the one side the media products, such as stories, interviews or special reports produced by RWR, and on the other side the special coverage of events during 2013. By analyzing these products, we could see that RWR uses communication in resistance mainly as a tool to promote the struggles and resist the system and power. And we also found that the audience is interested in the information focused towards regional integration, and that RWR contributes with the generation of this type of communication and therefore with this type of integration. Another important finding was that the materials tend to circulate within Latin America and that this contributes to the generation of important networks among alternative media in the region. A fourth point is that we effectively verified that there are differences with the production of traditional media, because we saw, for instance, that RWR covers important events focusing on the regional context, while traditional media often don´t even cover them or, if they do, they do so in a completely different way, because they focus on the national level, only in the country each media is focusing on. RWR compiles different proposals and events that take place throughout Latin America, it compiles all these events and deals with them in a regional way. So we could effectively see that RWR is in a context in which it contributes to regional integration, it goes beyond the dominant media.
RWR: Katherine, Belen made reference to "communications sovereignty". Please, tell us what you understand by this concept?
K: During the interviews conducted for the study, we talked with Bruno Pilon, of the Movement of Small Farmers of Brazil (MPA). And when we asked him what communication in resistance means, he said: "It means that we can produce what we need to have our own hands, food, music, culture...but I think that RWR can also produce sovereignty in communication. When we talk about sovereignty we talk about a condition of autonomous peoples where capital does not interfere and when communicating, we believe that RWR helps in the building of sovereignty". We found that what Bruno said is of extreme importance, so we started to reflect upon the results of the study and the regional context and the link between both things. What I see in the region is that Latin American States are working, they are collaborating among themselves to facilitate extractivism and production in the region, through spaces such as UNASUR, for instance, they have been working strongly around the building of roads, bridges, dams, etc. They are even facilitating IT logistics through the promotion of an optic fiber network in the region. This does not mean there is more political integration in Latin America, this hasn´t advanced much. But there is an important economic integration which is facilitating this extractivism, it is facilitating projects that can have significant impacts on the environment. Meanwhile, the governments are searching for a way at national level to take advantage of these opportunities for the export of natural resources. And we can see that there are important spaces to take over the energy of communities, to intervene to ensure that the communities accept these local projects. So, in this context we started to see the results of our study. What we saw is that RWR is carrying out extremely important work by circulating information about these problems at local level throughout the region. But the people we interviewed told us that communication has to serve not only as a tool for the resistance against these processes - it is not just a matter of sharing information, exposing facts - but also, according to them, communication has to serve as a driver for the building of alternatives, and especially for the building of alternative sovereignty in the region. This means States have to exist to serve the peoples and not as a mechanism to facilitate regional extractivism processes. So, one of the challenges we identified in this study for RWR is the challenge of knowing how to use communications to intervene in these processes and to build alternative sovereignty in the region. This is what we call communications sovereignty. One of the most important challenges for communications sovereignty, according to my analysis of the situation, is the challenge of finding communications hooks to connect with communities. Often, communities suffer disarticulation processes and we need to find the ways to reconnect the discourses that seem interesting for them and give them a reason to articulate themselves around a problem. And I think this is the main challenge organizations such as RWR face in the region, how to look for a way to use communications to articulate communities at local level so that they can resist these processes of reorganization of the economy at regional level.
RWR: I would like to take this opportunity, Katherine, to ask you which are RWR´s challenges from now on, according to the results from the study
K: This is exactly the challenge. I believe that RWR and the other communications networks at regional level have a strong, important infrastructure. We´ve seen that information circulates in the region, that users look for information on the website, that RWR covers important events related to what is going on at regional level. But the challenge is to take this information to communities in a way to facilitate their articulation at local level so that they can respond to these challenges that come from the regional level. That is to say, if extractivism is organized at regional level and then the States facilitate the entry of transnational companies into local communities, then local communities cannot be disarticulated at local level. They need to work together to face this challenge and to look for a way at local level, also understanding what is happening regionally. So, the work of circulating information at regional level is very important and necessary, but then we need to look for a way to help articulate communities at local level. In order to do this, the radios or websites or alternative media need to find adequate discourses that call the attention of people at local level, that help them understand what is going on, and that motivate them to look for a way to work together to face these challenges.
RWR: So, in general terms, what do you think has been accomplished and which should be the next steps?
K: It was possible to create this infrastructure at regional level, but it is necessary to look for a way to rethink the region as a region, from the grassroots level. And to do this we need to find new discourses, new ways of communicating the content of these challenges. It is not just writing the story, circulating the information, but to look for a way to talk about these issues. For instance, one of the things we did as part of the study was to search for words. We found that RWR mentions geographical references in several ways. It speaks of international, global, regional, national, local, the community, but there isn´t a strategic view about how to deal with the relationships among these spaces. There isn´t coherence in all RWR stories about how to talk about these processes of regionalization, globalization of the relationship between them. It would be necessary to find the discourse to promote, the way in which RWR wants to talk about these issues. Maybe Belen would like to say more about this.
B: In terms of this, we also found that RWR translates a lot of content to other languages so as to leave the region, but it still focuses, as Katherine said, on local issues, and it would be good to advance more towards processes within the community in terms of the language used.
RWR: Is there something you would like to discuss that didn´t emerge from the questions?
K: I would like to add one thing. It is very difficult to know how radio information circulates in the region. The Internet has an integrated way of following the distribution of online information. All is compiled, for example, by Google Analytics. But it is very hard to capture the information circulated by radio in one study and it represents a huge challenge, so it would be useful for social movements to find a way to follow which are the stories being downloaded, who is broadcasting them, where in the region the stories take place, etc. It would be very interesting to find a way to do this. And the other thing I would like to say is that it has been an enormous pleasure working with RWR in this study, it has been very interesting. we have learned a lot and RWR has shown solidarity with us by sharing, discussing, helping and supporting our work via email, etc. So, Jose, thank you very much for this opportunity.
B: I would like to add something to what Katherine said, I´d like to join the congratulations of many of the users we interviewed, who congratulated and appreciated the work carried out by RWR because it stems from their needs and ways of thinking.
RWR: We´ve really gone through this process knowing that this was a great opportunity, that was unprecedented in our ten years of existence. While there have been some studies about the radio, some students of several countries have written master´s degree papers with questions for RWR, we thought that this academic paper written by you, from the Simon Fraser University of Canada, was a study that focused on the work of RWR, framed in this geopolitics of communication and directly linked with social movements. But it also allowed us to have a lot of information to confirm some things, to rule out others, to solve some doubts and to gain a large amount of new data that we didn´t know about how RWR is used, distributed, and who are the people who use it. Maybe we had a lot of information and data, but it was very useful to give it a name and to know which are the movements and organizations that are permanently following RWR´s steps. As a member of the radio´s team, but also as a member of Friends of the Earth International, the environmental federation RWR belongs to, I would really like to thank both of you for the work you´ve done, for the added value you´ve given us, which will allow us to work with this input to present it in our website and use it in different projects.
Imagen: Real World Radio
A un mes de iniciarse el Foro Alternativo Mundial del Agua (FAMA), que tendrá lugar del 17 al 22 de marzo en la capital del Brasil, presentamos una versión radial del documento elaborado por Amigos de la Tierra América Latina y Caribe con elementos del contexto latinoamericano y mundial sobre el acceso al agua como derecho humano y los desafíos del movimiento ambientalista y social al enfrentar su privatización y monopolización.
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