Stations in transition in El Salvador


By Louise Boivin and Bruce Girard

The Chapultepec Accords, signed on January 16, 1992, put an end to 12 years of civil war in El Salvador. Radio Farabundo Martí and Radio Venceremos, the two radio stations of the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN), were legalised, and their studios moved to the capital, San Salvador. Both stations now broadcast on the FM band, covering most of the national territory.

The end of the war brought a need for drastic change to the once clandestine stations. "During the war, the station was an instrument of agitation and struggle. Now it must adjust to the transition. While we support the social program of the FMLN, the radio cannot remain a propaganda instrument for the party, but rather a professional, pluralistic communication medium in the service of civilian society", states Carlos Consalvi, who as Comandante Santiago was the voice of Radio Venceremos throughout the war, and is now the station's director.

Stations which provided a service to FMLN combatants and primarily rural supporters now feel a need to serve a larger cross-section, including the urban population. At the same time, the rural areas are going through a period of transition and have a need for more and better radio.

Radio Farabundo Martí has opted to orient its programming to residents of the capital. Radio Venceremos is experimenting with dual service, with one studio located in San Salvador and a second in Perquin, the former "capital" of the liberated zones. While each studio has its own staff and distinct orientation, they share the San Salvador transmitter that gives them national coverage.

The San Salvador staff of Radio Venceremos are seeking to shape the station as an independent and commercially viable national alternative radio station. However, its programming is aimed at a predominantly urban audience and does not always appeal to residents of rural areas.

The Perquin staff have access to the transmitter for four hours a day. Their share of the schedule features programming directed to an audience made up of rural campesinos and demobilised FMLN combatants.

With its emphasis on political orientation and educational programs the Perquin programming clashes with the slicker urban sound produced by the San Salvador staff. Even the musical tastes of the audience are different.

The vast majority of El Salvador's more than 40 commercial stations are located in urban areas. The Perquin initiative is only one of many that are trying to address this imbalance. Dedicated to reappropriating the freedom of expression that was denied them by the dictatorship, autonomous peasant communities and popular organisations are also contemplating their own community radio projects.

Among these projects are Radio Sumpul, which will reach the departments of Chalatenango, Cuscatlan and Cabanas, and the amplifications of Radio Segundo Montes' signal, which will allow it to cover all of Morazan.

Radio Segundo Montes broadcasts five hours daily with a low-power FM transmitter. It is one part of a social communication project that includes a weekly newspaper, a cultural centre and a musical group.

In a radio environment that has until now been overwhelmingly commercial, El Salvador's urban and rural community radio stations are affirming participatory characteristics in their programming, and in their new, "postwar" ownership and management structures.

For more information about community radio stations in El Salvador, contact Jose Gutierrez, c/- Public Radio News, PO Box 103, Fitzroy Vic 3065, Ph: (03) 417 7304 (w), 349 1290 (h).

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