Marcia Rodrigues is a feminist community communicator who was doing her daily radio programme on February 14 when the Brazilian Federal Police officers came to Novo Ar radio, a community radio located in São Gonçalo, a dormitory town 40 minutes from Rio de Janeiro. The policemen came to close the radio station, take the equipment, the audio table, the microphones, and took some of the local communicators to the police department.
While she was doing her live show - Women in Action - Marcia noticed what was going on outside her cabin and announced that the police was closing the radio, telling her audience that she did not know what was going to happen in the next few minutes... The quick response of the communicator made it possible for one of Novo Ar’s coordinators, on his way to the radio station, to go to the place where their antenna was installed and to take it down before the police arrived. Meanwhile, Marcia pretended that her show was still being broadcasted. This was the way they managed to avoid the theft of their transmitter – even though, the radio is mute until today.
In this interview we spoke to Graça Rocha, community communicator and coordinator of Novo Ar Radio. Graça is also the head of the Federation of Associations of Community Radios in Rio de Janeiro (FARC). She provided GenderIT.org with details about the repression that community radios experience at the hands of the police and Brazil’s national regulatory agency on telecommunications, Anatel.
Graciela Selaimen – Can you explain us how the Federal Police closed down the Novo Ar radio?
Graça Rocha – It was a violent action. The policemen shouted at people, didn't allow our collaborators to leave the premises, requested information in a harsh manner - such as where the transmitter was installed. Their attitude got worse when they realized that the radio was not on air anymore, although Marcia continued to pretend she was doing her programme. Luckily, Graciene [who is my daughter and one of Novo Ar's collaborators] managed to call our lawyer in Brasilia, who is also AMARC's lawyer. The police wanted to close the radio, close the telecentre [which operates on the second floor of our office], they even wanted to close the association Novo Ar, which is a community association that, beyond the communication activities, offers several services to the community, such as courses, legal orientation, and the like. This organization has more than two thousand associates.
While the police was still in the station, our lawyer encouraged us to ask the police for documents, the official mandate that would entitle them to close the radio station. What they showed us was a document that was not valid anymore, dated from 2005. They nevertheless took Marcia to the police station.
Graciela Selaimen – And what happened after that? Was Novo Ar judicially prosecuted?
Graça Rocha – No. We don't know what happened, but all the documents regarding the repressive action mysteriously disappeared from the police office. Our lawyer has made an official request to see the process that generated the seizure of our equipment but nobody knows where it is...we don't even know the identification number of the process, although we formally requested it. We've been waiting for an explanation since February.
Graciela Selaimen – Is the radio operating? Are you on air?
Graça Rocha – We're operating, but we can only play music and some short messages that we have previously recorded. We cannot have live, daily shows anymore. All the informative programming of the radio, which was our main attraction, is suspended. Without the radio, the other activities of the Novo Ar association are shattered, even the telecentre. The courses, the debates, the seminars, the services we offer, the activities to mobilise the community -it's all demobilised. We lost almost 300 associates. Many people who came to the radio to participate in live shows and other activities just don't come anymore – they fear the repression, they fear the police.
Graciela Selaimen – How did the women who listened to 'Women in Action' react?
Graça Rocha – They expressed their sadness for not gaining access to the information anymore, the interviews, the programmes that provided them guidance regarding health care, sexual rights, women's rights. Many women demonstrated their concern regarding what happened here and fear for the future of the radio. We received messages from our listeners that want to have the live shows back in our programme schedule.
On the other hand, the women who work in the radio reacted very well. We're in this movement, in the struggle for the democratisation of communications for a long time... I believe that some of us were “prepared” for the repression. The men, however, haven't been so tenacious... many of them preferred to withdraw from the activities in the radio [of course, there are exceptions!]. But women resist better. Here in Novo Ar, women are the majority – and although we feel exhausted sometimes, we never give up, we keep struggling.
Graciela Selaimen – In what ways are you fighting to bring the radio back on air, with the complete programming?
Graça Rocha – We started a campaign asking for support, more than 95 organisations in this region and more than 11 thousand people have demonstrated their support. We also had to move, to change our address, to try once again to obtain the authorisation from the Ministry of Communications to operate, asking for a new radio frequency. The frequency we were on was ceded to another local radio, linked to a Pentecostal church... we're working, readapting all our documentation, starting all the process again, from the beginning. We're also doing a survey in our region, asking for institutional support to try to get the authorisation from Anatel. This is not the first time we start this process all over again, from scratch. But we're not giving up. The radio is our life, is our work. We keep moving.