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Thursday, June 25, 2009

Erica Thompson, "Interview with Irma and Herbert: Members of El Salvador's Radio Zurda," Upside Down World, June 26, 2009.

Radio Zurda is a radical youth media collective that broadcasts a weekly radio program on 22 community stations in El Salvador. Through a live Internet feed, the program has the capacity to reach millions of people around the world with critical and otherwise under or un-reported news and a consistent drive for community engagement, collective process, and political empowerment.

Radio Zurda formed in 2004, after the Salvadoran right wing and major media engineered a dirty campaign against FMLN leader and presidential candidate Schafik Handal, costing the Left a devastating loss in their third electoral bid for state power. Lamenting a severe lack of community-based news and information as well as an urgent need for urban and rural youth to engage in meaningful, internal dialogue around the historical memory of El Salvador and political issues of the day, three youth activists began what they expect to be a long, diligent process in reclaiming media to serve these ends.

UDW: Take us back to the first discussions or realizations you had that led to the formation Radio Zurda

Herbert: After Shafik Handal lost the presidential election in 2004, a group of comrades came together to critique the campaign and to examine the media’s damaging role in influencing the results. The media strategy was to demonize Schafik - to label him a terrorist and incite fear among the people about the prospect of an FMLN government. We saw that this strategy really worked to confuse a lot of people and swing votes in favor of the Right. People had no way to connect with each other on a national level and debate the real issues. We decided it was up to us to create another kind of media - one that gave space to various opinions, specifically those of alternative youth - and we were determined to do this through the radio. We began by writing a short pamphlet called “The Beginning of Left-Handed Radio” which we distributed at marches that were happening at the time.

Later, an opportunity emerged to propose a radio project to MayavisiĆ³n. With the purpose of providing information and generating critiques among youth, our fundamental objectives were to inform, educate, and entertain with liberated perspectives. Within a couple of months, two more compaƱer@s joined us to bring a more solid feminist voice to the collective and to broaden the team.

We create and produce the Radio Zurda program ourselves. We completed the first two years of transmission without interruption, though we faced a lot of prejudice. Some people thought we wouldn’t take our program seriously, that we were going to do it halfway and not complete the job but we did it successfully. That was the first phase.

We have just completed two more phases and have continued to transmit through ARPAS satellite network - 22 community radio stations throughout the country - as well as through the Internet. There are eight other allied organizations in El Salvador, Europe, and the U.S. who transmit our programs on the Internet. Stations like Radio Tazulam in Ahuachapan, El Salvador can also use our program and put it into their schedule whenever they want. They can edit our program in a way that is useful for them, cut the songs that we put in of it doesn’t work for them and replace them with music that they like. Or they can select the content that they want and use it in other community programs.

  When the government wanted to privatize our only public University four years ago, we talked to the student movement, not those who wanted to buy it. We want to raise other points of view so that people can develop their own critiques with as much real information as possible.

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