AMARC Europe highlighted the needs of community media and, especially, those broadcasting through European Regional languages during the meeting of the Intergroup for Traditional Minorities, National Communities and Languages that took take place on Thursday 16 January 2014 in Strasbourg. The meeting was facilitated by Basque MEP Iñaki Irazabalbeitia, of the European Free Alliance group.

The meeting opened with an intervention by Dr Davyth Hicks (Secretary-General European Language Equality Network, CEO Eurolang), Sally Galiana (President of the European Association of Community Broadcasters – AMARC Europe) and Isabel Lema (AMARC working group on minority languages.

Dr. Davyth Hicks introduced the report on the Conference “Radio broadcasting in minority languages” that took place on 16 October 2013 in Brussels. The European Language Equality Network is today the chief NGO that works for the protection and promotion of European lesser-used languages. Established in 2011 it replaced the former European Bureau for Lesser Used Languages (EBLUL) and to date represents 42 languages in 21 European states.

During his presentation, Dr. Hicks outlined the positive sociolinguistic effects of community radio in terms of language revitalisation, the associated linguistic rights framework, and introduced ELEN’s recommendations of collaboration between Community Media and European Institutions to promote and strengthen European Regional Languages.

Hicks referred to the report on ‘Endangered European languages and linguistic diversity in the European Union’, for which the rapporteur was the Corsican MEP François Alfonsi, which was unanimously approved in the Culture and Education Committee and supported by 92% of MEPs at the European Parliament plenary vote on 11 September 2013. In that context, Hicks pointed out that point 13 of the Alfonsi Report clearly underlines that language revitalization policy must be based on long-term, coordinated and diverse efforts developed in various fields. Among those pointed out, mass media, and more precisely radio broadcasting, are mentioned.

Hicks outlined the existing legal framework that protects and promotes the use of European Regional Languages, such as the Charter of Fundamental Rights, articles 11, 21 and 22, as well as article 19, which protects citizens right to communicate and the OSCE Oslo Recommendations Regarding the Linguistic Rights  of National Minorities and the European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages (ECRML) that proposes in Article 11. “the creation of at least one radio station and one television channel in the regional or minority languages”, or the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities (FCNM) that “ recognise that the right to freedom of expression of every person belonging to a national minority includes freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas in the minority language”  and proposes “licensing, without discrimination and based on objective criteria, of sound radio and television broadcasting”,  while protecting the persons belonging to national minorities right to the creation and use of their own media.

As ELEN proposals, Hicks pointed out the establishment of an Action Committee for Regional Minority Languages Media within the NGO; increasing advocacy at the UN, UNESCO and in the EU for the protection of Regional Minority Languages radio rights as part of its work programme for 2014; ELEN will apply to set up a RML media network under Erasmus Plus that all the RML radio stations will be invited to join as well as the organisation support for a RML radio pilot project proposal to be tabled in the Parliament; and work towards ensuring that States reserve radio frequencies for RML communities.

Sally Galiana explained the current situation of the third media sector in Europe. Despise the 2008 Resolution of the Europe Parliament and the 2009 Declaration of the Council of Europe, the standing of community media has deteriorated. Galiana highlighted that there has been very little advances in the recognition of the sector in EU member states, and despise some moves in Spain, Poland and Czech Republic, these have not materialised in the issuing of licenses or frequencies to Community Broadcasters. In fact, in countries where the sector was already well established, such as Hungary, the change of government and the introduction of draconian legislation and regulation has resulted in the closure of over 2/3 of community stations in the country. Finally, the lack of support by national and regional authoriies in most European countries means that the sector struggles to survive with very little resources and support.

Galiana pointed out while the sector is still delivering the benefits highlighted in the European Parliament resolution and the CULT Committee report “Promoting Social Cohesion. The Role of community Radio”, the members of the community seemed to ignore their own recommendations and have rejected in two consecutive years the proposal for a Pilot Project for Community Media that would have guaranty resources and growth for the Third Media Sector.

On its rejection statement, the CULT Committee claimed that community radios are “micro-stations” with very little impact in society. This two statements conflict with the reality of the sector, with radio stations engaging an average of 75 paid and unpaid staff each. In Ireland, for example, that translates into about 1600 people involved in production of content, broadcasting and decision making, with the 22 community radios in Ireland reaching a 11% of the Irish radio listenership. So, at European level the sector is engaging millions of people by providing them with training in ICT and journalistic skills as well as facilities to produce and broadcast their own programmes in their own voices and their own languages.

Community radio contributes to promotion and preservation of diversity within RML, bringing to the social, political and economic sphere the specificities of the RML as spoken in local areas.

Sally Galiana requested further engagement from MEPs with the third sector, at local, national and European level, and to focus on the establishment of mechanisms that would ensure the 2008 resolution is implemented by member states.

Isabel Lema (AMARC-Europe Minority Language Working Group), introduced the AMARC recommendations and requests to support minorityanguages and local cultures through community media. These included the creation of a European framework that would guaranty the development, growth and sustainability of community projects; a frequency reserve of 33% of the spectrum for community radios that broadcast in minority languages and that the access to the frequencies takes place in a situation of equality with other local media (either public or private); and to ensure the sustainability of community radio by eliminating restrictions to their budget and the creation of mechanism that guarantee public funding at local, regional and national level.

Lema pointed out that community radio are the “only voice and sources of local news and information” in many areas, acting as local public service media. As commercial radio reduce their local content, using news agencies and syndicated productions, and with the tendency towards media concentration, community media constitute a key tool in ensuring pluralism and diversity in media.

Lema denounced that community radio is facing technical and financial restriction that do not apply to commercial and public local services, such as limited and restrictive catchment areas for Community Media licenses or the imposition of a cap on their budgets. This situation is compounded by the lack of public funding mechanisms that would guarantee the sustainability of the Third Media sector, as well as financial requirements that disqualify not-for-profit community radio from applying for European funding.

This is why AMARC Europe recommends to the European Parliament the establishment of funding towards the promotion and conservation of Regional minority languages and community radios.