As a new member of Habitat Pro’s team in Lima, I was interested to find out about journalists that write about Indigenous issues. When I asked my colleagues in Lima who the best-known writers are, I was told simply “there aren’t any”. After researching Peru’s main newspapers and media channels, it really did appear that way. Puzzled and perplexed, I refused to believe that the voices of the 46% of Peru’s population that identify themselves as Indigenous could be completely excluded from the media, and that the issues that affect their lives could have no place in the news channels. I decided to investigate this issue further.
I learnt that the mainstream media barely ever cover Indigenous issues. The articles on Indigenous peoples that can be found from these news sources are very few and far between, and they are only published when there is a really major issue. El comercio news corporation holds a virtual monopoly, controlling 78% of all news outlets, and they are not interested in publishing about Indigenous issues as they are of the opinion that these stories will not generate financial gain.
It was surprising to learn this, especially ten years after the UN declaration on the rights of Indigenous peoples (UNDRIP) was adopted, which recognizes communication as a fundamental human right of Indigenous peoples. Article 16 of the declaration is the right to media, stating that Indigenous peoples have the right to establish their own media in their own languages and to have access to all forms of non-Indigenous media without discrimination. It calls on the world’s states to encourage private media to adequately reflect indigenous cultural diversity.
Coverage on Indigenous issues in Peru comes not from the mainstream media but from the civil society. Where the Peruvian government and private media are not taking the steps necessary to make indigenous communication rights a reality, there are luckily civil society organizations that are. SERVINDI and the University Ruiz Montoya in Lima are two organizations that are working in partnership to improve this situation, and using communication and media as a tool to empower Indigenous peoples. SERVINDI is a nonprofit organization and news agency specializing in Indigenous issues. These two organizations are working together to provide indigenous communities with the means to use media, and especially radio, to express their concerns and defend their rights. Radio is the preferred media of many Indigenous peoples as the literacy levels in these regions are low, and the majority of Indigenous languages are oral, not written, so radio allows Indigenous peoples to use their own languages. The Universidad Ruiz de Montoya also encourages Journalism students to go to work with Indigenous communities to help them develop their own media and radio.
Improving communication and increasing Indigenous presence in the media is essential in the fight against injustice, and is essential in the preservation of Indigenous languages and culture. Stereotyping of Indigenous peoples and discrimination is widespread in Peru, and this comes from the ignorance perpetrated by the lack of Indigenous issues in the media. The silencing of Indigenous voices leads to a lack of respect for them and their culture; discrimination can only be fought against if Indigenous voices are adequately represented in the media.
Communication and news channels are also an important way to influence social and political agenda, as governments are more likely to act on the issues reported in the media. It is essential therefore that indigenous voices and opinions are heard, as adequate representation of all groups is a vital component for democracy. The issue of climate change makes this all the more urgent. Climate change affects Indigenous communities more than any other group, and it is important that people are aware of how climate issues are threatening the existence of Indigenous communities.
 UNDRIP. http://www.un.org/esa/socdev/unpfii/documents/DRIPS_en.pdf