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Protection of indigenous media sought at the UN

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NEW YORK - Indigenous advocates want the United Nations to help draft laws protecting the rights of Native people to own media and for the prosecution of those who kill or persecute their journalists.

The issues of indigenous rights to ownership and free expression come on the heels of a series of murders of Native broadcasters in Oaxaca, Mexico: two in early April and then two more three weeks later.

At the U.N.;s Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues conference from late April to early May, a team of indigenous advocates from five Latin American countries presented a list of recommendations that were titled ''The Right to Communication and Free Expression of Indigenous Peoples.'' The group used Article 16 of the U.N.'s Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and Uruguay's newly passed Community Radio Broadcast Law, as models for future legislation.

In Article 16, the declaration states that indigenous peoples have the right to ''establish their own media ... in their own languages and that the other non-indigenous media agree to not discriminate'' against the Native media. While the U.N. declaration gives general guidelines on these matters, the Community Radio Broadcast Law provides a specific set of measures for how the law is to be carried out on the national level.

The Uruguayan law, for instance, authorizes the setting aside of frequencies for open, transparent and public assemblies before a public audience and establishes, in accordance with recommendations from the Organization of American States, a certain spectrum of the airwaves reserved only for community and other non-commercial media.

This new legislation, passed by a unanimous vote in December 2007, also stipulates that the radio spectrum will be considered ''community property of humanity subject to administration by the states and as such, the fair use of the frequencies by all of Uruguayan society constitutes a general principle of its administration.''

According to indigenous communications activists, this law follows the practices set up by similar legislation passed in Colombia, Ecuador, Venezuela, Bolivia and Peru to be nonprofit entities, but with the ability to raise funds for their respective operations.

Marcos Terena, a prominent indigenous leader from Brazil, presented the groups' position and a list of recommendations at the forum conference.

''We must urge legislative transformations and adopt effective actions to guarantee the right of peoples and indigenous communities to have their own communications media,'' asserted Terena, who has been involved in national and international advocacy efforts since the 1970s.

(The noted Brazilian activist and scholar was instrumental in developing both the U.N. Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues and in helping to draft the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.)

Referring to the recent assassinations and the ongoing persecutions of Native broadcasters, Terena called on the U.N. ''to be on guard against and to denounce aggressions against community radio stations and indigenous broadcasters throughout the world.''

In recent speeches given to other international bodies, Terena has noted this type of persecution exists in his home country of Brazil, as well as in Chile, Argentina, Paraguay and many other nations in the hemisphere.

Terena and the groups' call for vigilance comes directly from Point 3 of the list of six recommendations presented to the Permanent Forum. In points 4 and 5, the group lays out a plan of action for sustaining the effort:

''To incorporate into the future agenda of the Permanent Forum a session dedicated to the theme of Indigenous Peoples and Communication to make an evaluation of the situation, the violation of and threats to this right; and also to follow the compliance of the member states with the accords adopted by the World Summit of the Information Society to contribute to closing the digital divide. ... To urge states towards promoting and adopting codes of cultural ethics to avoid ethnic and cultural stereotypes that discriminate and denigrate indigenous citizens.''

All of the indigenous organizations involved in the advocacy before the Permanent Forum have dealt with similar problems in their regions. Among the 14 organizations that were signatories to the list were the Peru-based Servindi Intercultural Communications Services, which maintains a hemispheric indigenous news service, in Spanish, on the Internet; the Triqui Solidarity Committee of Mexico, who assisted in seeking justice for the two slain Triqui broadcasters; and the Support Group for the Guarani and Arawak peoples of Brazil, for whom Terena has advocated also. The group that appeared before the Permanent Forum also included representatives from Mexico, Brazil, Panama, Colombia and Peru.

The Permanent Forum released a press statement in early May, responding positively to the group's recommendations.

''The Permanent Forum encourages the states to make an express recognition of community information media in their national legislations and adopt effective measures to put a value on the rights of indigenous communities and peoples to have their own information media.''

''I am very gratified by its message and before the picture of uncertainties and contradictions of the white man, we can affirm that, as Native people, our commitment to the demarcation of our lands - and to maintain the link between culture and spirit, and for the protection of the life of all us,'' Terena said.