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Bëë Xhidza Aire Zapotec: the challenges of maintaining a community radio in Mexico

It is five in the morning in the Sierra Norte of Oaxaca and, at the same time that the peasants begin their workday, Oswaldo Martínez Flores, from his radio booth, prepares the script for his morning program on the Bëë Xhidza Aire Zapotec station of the 106.3 FM. It will begin its transmission with the weather forecast, since it is one of the most requested topics by the neighbors, who are mostly dedicated to agriculture.

Here, in the territory of the Xhidza people, community radio is an extension of everyday life. It begins transmission at 6 in the morning and closes the microphones at 9 at night, when the residents prepare to rest. From Monday to Sunday, the four people in charge of Bëë Xhidza Aire Zapoteco transmit programs that deal with current events in the community, indigenous rights, folk and romantic music, entertainment based on their tradition, climate change, as well as content from Radio Educación, through an agreement, and Aristegui Noticias, deferred. Everything in Bëë Xhidza, that is, in the Zapotec language.

“Most of the community still maintains the Zapotec language, but here it is known as Bëë Xhidza, and that has made people feel the radio is their own because the communities listen to their own language,” explains Martínez Flores, co-founder and coordinator of the Xhidza collective and general coordinator of Kieru Kas.

Before Bëë Xhidza Aire Zapotec, the only frequencies that reached the Sierra Norte de Oaxaca were those of Veracruz, whose contents were decontextualized and far from the reality of the Xhidza people. In 2009 they decided to change that reality. “We got together to make our own community radio, where we could talk in our own language and about our own problems and what comes from outside we could translate,” says Martínez Flores.

However, creating and maintaining a community radio is complex. A strong investment is required to acquire radio equipment, computers, a space to record and a concession to be able to transmit. The xhidza community did not give up. His first step was to raise funds and he found them with the Association of Christian Radios, a non-governmental organization in Canada, who financed them with 200,000 pesos to purchase radio equipment.

But the most important piece was missing: the radio frequency. Obtaining a concession for AM or FM, says Martínez Flores, is difficult, mainly due to the requirements that are required, such as having financial capacity and technical specifications for the use of bands.

For this reason, they opted for another way: to establish their radio through the use of free frequencies from Veracruz that reach their community, using international agreements, such as that of the International Labor Organization (ILO), which points out the importance of rights to education and the media in indigenous communities, or the declaration of indigenous peoples and the regulatory law of the peoples and communities of Oaxaca, which allow communities to establish their own media in the mother tongue.

“We saw a frequency that was free and, from there, we started transmitting. When a station comes along that starts broadcasting, we switch so we don’t steal frequency from that station. Because this radio does not seek to compete with another station, it is a regional radio station,” says Martínez Flores.

The use of free frequencies by indigenous communities to develop their own radios has caused them to be branded as ‘pirates’ or ‘clandestine’. But for the co-founder of the Xhidza collective, these denominations are unfair, “because the only thing we are trying to do is spread our customs. We live in community and there is the thought of serving and helping each other through the radio. Behind a radio there is a lot of effort and alternatives are being sought”.

When the Telecommunications and Broadcasting reform was enacted in Mexico in 2013, various specialists warned of the danger of making the administrative and legal procedures so complicated so that indigenous communities could access a concession, as it would cause them to transmit through free frequencies. .

This year, Bëë Xhidza Aire Zapoteco, which reaches approximately 25 communities, with more than 25,000 inhabitants and an audience of 12,500 radio listeners, wants its band use situation to change. It has decided to enter into a bidding process for concessions, since it considers that the IFT, together with UNESCO, seeks to make the mechanisms that were established in 2013 simpler now.

“Now we are accepting the conditions under which we operate, here the important thing is to have quality of the broadcast and what was seen before were the facilities where it was broadcasting,” he says.

How much does it cost to maintain a community radio?

Oswaldo Martínez Flores recalls that initially Bëë Xhidza Aire Zapoteco only went on the air on weekends, because its transmitters consumed a lot of electricity, increasing production costs. “The expenses came from the cooperations and we even put from our own pocket and the people supported us in kind with corn or beans, to be able to continue with the transmissions.”

Over time they looked for alternatives to mitigate expenses: clean energy. Through an agreement with an organization they were able to install solar lighting equipment. The results were immediate: the costs for this input decreased by 80%.

To keep Bëë Xhidza Aire Zapoteco on the air, one million pesos a year is required. Currently, the indigenous organization of the United States NDN is the one that supports them financially.

Bëë Xhidza Aire Zapoteco considers that community radios have a relevant role within the indigenous peoples, since they not only allow them to be informed, but also preserve their customs and languages and even organize themselves to create schools. To continue with their radio projects, they require more support from the government in order to access financial resources and more concessions.

“We believe that through the National Institute of Indigenous Peoples, the issue of radio stations should be micro-regionalized, so that they come to see that these radio stations are fulfilling a function of preserving our language and our roots,” he says. “Furthermore, if we were assigned a annual budget we could maintain this radio and generate jobs, even for the new generations. Because until now many of us have given our time for the common good. Being a communicator here is not like a form of work but a way of life”.

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