In an age when people communicate instantly by text message or watch the latest news broadcasts on their computers, some in Argentina have adopted a much less high-tech means of communication: the radio. Since the country’s economic crisis in the early 2000s, dozens of community radio stations have sprung up in remote villages and overcrowded neighborhoods, providing listeners with an alternative source of news and information to that offered by the country’s traditional commercial broadcasters.
For several years, Anita Pouchard Serra has been documenting several Argentinian collectives which help community groups to set up low and medium power radios. The projects offer not only information, but a way to unite the inhabitants around a common project to learn how to install, operate and program a station.
“These stations can have a big impact on people’s daily lives because they can choose what they listen to,” said Pouchard Serra, who divides her time between Buenos Aires and Paris. “In rural areas where there is no internet or mobile phone service, it offers a way to communicate between villages and organizations to find out what is going on. “
Her photo series was the result of her curiosity about the lingering effects of the Argentine depression on the country’s political and social processes, which led her to cover street protests. During one of them, she met members of the DTL! collective, one of the groups helping to set up alternative radios. After visiting their workshop, she offers to follow them in setting up a transmitter and a studio.
“They were the invisible ones in the fight,” she said. “Their work was hidden, so I offered to go with them to document the process.”
The collective provides the transmitter, antenna and other materials – which can cost around $ 1,300, an amount they help raise through lotteries, parties and other methods – and mobilize the community to put the station into service. In cities, their signal could be limited to a few blocks, while in the countryside it could reach places up to 40 kilometers.
Programming varied by location and station, which for the most part operate outside the law. In the cities, she said, programming focused on politics, social issues and culture. In some cases, the organizations that sponsored the station used it as a way to promote their work in the context of the country’s political and economic situation. In some localities, the programs were even transmitted in indigenous languages.
Their impact can be particularly strong in remote areas where authorities try to control information, she said. During a conflict over a mining project in the country’s northern region, the mayor of a town was aggressively promoting the controversial project despite local opposition to the destruction of the landscape and the resulting pollution. An alternative radio station, she said, was able to come up with counter-programming that presented the views of the opposition.
Over the years, the stations have come together in a national network which allows them to share programs. Another group of about 10 stations meets each week to discuss the topics they will cover during the week.
Although the collective helps set up the station, it is up to local groups to manage it. This can be a challenge because people get tired or lose interest. Still, she said, more and more stations are popping up.
“Sometimes what is broadcast is not as important as the effect it has on residents,” said Pouchard Serra. “Radio is a visible project that brings people together to participate as a producer or technician. In these barrios, the radio functions as a center where people come together and unite. They create links to generate solidarity, where people get to know each other.