In a country as geographically and culturally diverse as Mexico, community radio stations provide local news and views that mainstream outlets do not.

Sometimes, they counter official narratives that are part of a larger political and media agenda, bringing them into conflict with the authorities and, more perilously, drug gangs - with sometimes deadly results.

Now, a new law is offering community radio stations a small piece of the federal government's advertising budget, but could it be a double-edged sword? Could the funding threaten the stations' much-valued independence?

The trend is to fund media which flatter the authorities ... we are treating this issue with caution because we don't want community radio to become dependent on public money.

Elfego Riveros, legal representative, Radio Teocelo

"What community media does is facilitate freedom of expression. It provides a mechanism for citizen participation since it allows them to generate and be part of the public debate," says Aleida Calleja, advocacy coordinator, OBSERVACOM. "Radio Teocelo is an interesting case. It is the community which sustains the station."

Radio Teocelo has been broadcasting for more than 50 years in the southern state of Veracruz. It's the oldest community radio station in Mexico, run almost entirely by volunteers, and funded by listener subscriptions, local raffles and concerts.

That community money and time goes right back to the people in the form of shows like "Cabildo Abierto" or "Open Town Hall".

Radio Voladora was a mobile pirate radio station run by student activists until the year 2000 when it settled in Amecameca, in the shadow of an active volcano. That year, the volcano erupted and national media created a local panic by misreporting a call to evacuate. Radio La Voladora broadcast the facts, helped calm the situation and found a permanent home on the local airwaves.

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"We have programmes which discuss the preservation of culture, social issues, political commentary on local and national topics," explains Veronica Galicia, a founding member of Radio La Voladora.

"We often say our programming is kaleidoscopic because it mixes all these voices and realities. A member of the community comes to us and suggests a programme according to what she would like to talk about, what she would like to hear. This is how the community participates, how they listen to the radio," Galicia says.

A new broadcast law requires federal agencies to spend one percent of their advertising budgets on community radio airtime. It's a tiny proportion of an enormous sum, hardly a windfall.

But the idea of accepting government money makes many community radio stations uncomfortable. The fear that many community radio stations share is that government money will bring with it the government's message.

"The trend is to fund media which flatter the authorities," says Elfego Riveros, Radio Teocelo's legal representative. "We are treating this issue with caution because we don't want community radio to become dependent on public money."

While questions of impunity, lawlessness and corruption beset the Mexican government, the country's centralised, corporate media can only tell part of the story. Community radio stations, reflecting and representing social movements, rural communities, indigenous peoples and women are a better expression of Mexico's true diversity and are demanding a say in its future.

Contributors:

Socrates Vasquez, member, Radio Jenpoj
Elfego Riveros, legal representative, Radio Teocelo
Veronica Galicia, founding member, Radio La Voladora
Aleida Calleja, advocacy coordinator, OBSERVACOM

Source: Al Jazeera