Mario Murillo's report on Radio in Colombia

Universidad del Norte, Barranquilla, Colombia September 25-27, 2008Like most conferences focused on media that I’ve participated in over the years in the U.S., Colombia and around the world, the Sixth Encounter of the Network of University Radio Stations of Colombia, RRUC, provided an interesting mix of social/cultural discussion and debate, with the more practical concerns of economic sustainability and technical/normative issues affecting the many stations participating in the network. There was a lot of talk about future collaborative projects for the network, and considerable attention was paid to RRUC’s relationship to state entities like the Ministry of Communication. A diverse mix of representatives from every region of the country was present at the conference, sharing experiences and concerns about the state of University Radio in Colombia, and its outlook for the future. What I was surprised – and a bit disappointed, I might add - not to hear too much about in the three days of meetings that took place in the Universidad del Norte in the Caribbean coastal city of Barranquilla, was information about the internal political dynamics within the country’s many campuses, relating to student activism and mobilization, and how these issues may or may not unfold in the radio signals that are emanating from those distinct locales. Indeed, there was an almost total absence of student participants in the conference, even though it was held on the beautiful campus of one of the most important universities in the country, home to Uninorte Estereo, the university station celebrating its 25th anniversary this week..... ......In essence, of all the many presentations and panels at the event, only two focused on the issues of community and citizen involvement at the university radio stations. The first was the talk by Jaime Abello, the national coordinator of the Fundación Nuevo Periodismo Iberoamericano, FNPI, the press association founded by Nobel laureate Gabriel García Márquez. Abello painted a broad landscape of the state of news media today, not only in Colombia, but on a global scale. He made a strong case for the need for University radio stations in Colombia to strengthen its commitment to comprehensive journalism, one that goes beyond the already solid cultural reporting that is common in many of the older college stations in the country. He reminded the audience of the social responsibility the stations and universities have to their localities, and that one of those responsibilities include providing the audiences with investigative and well-researched information that can offset, even if on a small scale, many of the inherent flaws of mainstream, commercial news organizations. The second presentation that addressed the social responsibility of university radio stations was provided by, well, yours truly. I had been invited to present a keynote speech about this broad topic by the current national director of the RRUC, Guillermo Gaviria, a Julliard School graduate and seasoned musician who happens to be the head of the Javeriana Stereo in Bogotá, one of the strongest university stations in all of Colombia. I focused on the role of the students in the spaces of broadcasting, keeping in mind that as educators and as broadcasters, most of us working in University radio have dual responsibilities: one to our audiences, and two, and perhaps more important, to our students.Just as community radio can contribute to the building of citizen participation in local settings by engaging volunteer programmers in the creation of their own messages, university radio can and should do the same, albeit under different circumstances. Challenging the notion that students were generally incapable of thinking critically and producing responsible news and information programming content for a broad audience, an opinion expressed to me by several station directors in the room prior to my talk, I discussed the importance of hearing the voices of young people in these spaces. It opened an interesting discussion amongst the participants, many of whom openly acknowledged the limited participation of students in the broader direction, production and planning of the respective stations. For the complete presentation by Mario Murillo go to MamaRadio .