To improve the information ecosystem we need to rebuild trust and focus on local, community-driven initiatives

Barbara Paes

On October 26, we gathered online with over 20 organisers, activists and journalists from 9 countries in Latin America. We were inspired to hear from speakers Nathaly Espitia (Internews) and Maria Juliana (Universidad Icesi, Cali. Colombia) from Colectivo Noís Radio, Júlia Rocha from Artigo 19, and Ramiro Alvarez Ugarte from CELE, as well as from participants in the call, who joined us in an open discussion about challenges we’re facing in the information ecosystem in the region and opportunities we see for action. In this blog post we’re sharing some of the key takeaways from our conversation. 

A healthy information ecosystem is one where people are able to listen and talk to each other

Our conversation started with learnings from Maria Juliana and Nathaly Espitia from Noís Radio, a collective from Cali (Colombia) that has been working since 2009 on producing live radio programs using voices, music, live sounds and performative actions. They shared that they don’t see themselves as a “traditional” radio station, but rather as a “medio de conversación” (or conversation medium) that creates spaces for conversation and listening, not just one-sided sharing of information. 

For Noís Radio, the key to a healthy information ecosystem is that people are able to listen and talk to each other. This approach was echoed by other participants in the call: for Ramiro Ugarte from CELE, it is key that we think about how to generate more dialogue and conversations, because building spaces where people can have dialogue and connect face-to-face is key to combating polarisation and achieving a healthier information ecosystem. 

Building trust is a slow-burning process (but it’s worth it!)

During the call, we talked about some of the factors that serve as a backdrop to our broken information system: the region is going through a period of heightened lack of trust in media and institutions, there is acute political polarisation in various countries, and citizens are dissatisfied with political systems and experiencing information overload. 

To respond to this scenario, many participants spoke about the value of creating information initiatives that include processes designed to rebuild trust with people in our communities. For example, in their work, Noís Radio doesn’t approach communities with a fixed, previously defined project – instead, the collective invites people to join them in conversations and share what their needs are, then they work on establishing relationships of trust and “pass the microphone to people in their communities”. During the national strike in Colombia, in 2021, for example, Noís Radio was in Cali recording shows from “puntos de resistencia” (resistance points) with social organisations, young people, artists, mothers and other protesters who trusted their microphones and shared their voices. (You can listen to the shows here!). 

When talking about their experience, Nathaly and Maria Juliana shared that, though the trust building process can be slow, it has proven to be essential, because it gives you an important foundation when you need to organise during a moment of crisis. Having already built trust with the people in their communities over time and having meaningfully involved people in their work in the past meant that Noís Radio were able to mobilise quickly in a difficult political context, generating important conversations within their communities. 

The value of local information initiatives and fostering a sense of community

The sense that community-led efforts are fundamental to a stronger information ecosystem in the region was echoed by Júlia Rocha, who leads the Access to Information and Transparency team at Artigo 19 in Brazil. In her perspective, “local solutions are the ones that work the most”. In a region where the notion of public interest information has been often shaped by corporate interests, as phrased by Júlia, investing in local, independent, community-led communications is indispensable. Since 2020, her organisation has been supporting the work of popular communication initiatives throughout the country with the campaign #CompartilheInformação, which has given grants to groups providing trustworthy information about health, democracy and elections and, soon, the environment. 

Brazilian journalism organisations Agência Mural and Énois (who also joined our call!) are also showing how valuable local initiatives can be for the information ecosystem. Seeing that people lack access to information at the local, city level, they argue that there needs to be more support to the “development of local initiatives that contribute to reducing news deserts”, which provides citizens with the information they need in order to “participate in public life from the territory where they live”. As Izabela Moi and Nina Weingrill put it: “quality local coverage creates and sustains the feeling of belonging to a community and opens spaces for action and citizen participation.“ 

We see this in the work of Noís Radio too, in their work to empower more independent voices in the information ecosystem. In our chat, Nathaly and Maria Juliana talked about the importance of creating initiatives that go beyond capital cities, as well as how crucial it is to support the work coming from indigenous communities, afro colombian communities and migrant communities. 

During the call, we also heard from Agencia Baudó in Colombia, who is doing “journalism that connects communities” by working with community storytellers that are not only providers of information, but also local leaders working in their communities for social transformation. Another example shared is the work of +COMUNIDAD, an argentinian “solutions journalism medium” that investigates, finds and tells stories of people and cities, solving their challenges and inspiring others to transform themselves.

Participants also talked about the importance of counterbalancing the lack of “official” data about certain topics, especially in regions that lack access to information about issues such as sexual and reproductive health and rights or the environment, with the production of community-driven data or initiatives that democratise access to information.To that end, we talked about initiatives like Artigo 19’s map made for Brazilian women to know where to access abortion care in their states – information that had been previously unavailable.

Fighting harmful trends at a regional level and more support for  sustained, long term alliances

We discussed some of the regional trends in information disorder and how civil society in the region is witnessing the same types of disinformation being shared in many countries. Research led by Chequeado (Argentina), La Silla Vacía (Colombia), Lupa (Brazil), Ocote (Guatemala) and OjoPúblico (Perú), for instance, has shown how groups are organising to spread falsehoods about gender-related issues in Latin America. Recent investigative project Mercenarios Digitales, led by a cross-border and collaborative media alliance, has gathered evidence on the impact of an international network of disinformation actors operating in the region. 

In this context, participants shared that it is key to foster more multi-country spaces where civil society organisations, journalists and human rights defenders can work in an articulated manner to build a healthier information ecosystem. Similarly, participants also talked about how important it could be to have regional alliances that would allow them to foresee the types of disinformation and attacks that are emerging in the continent.

Join our next community call!

As we make our way through this multi-year project to contribute to a healthier information ecosystem, our team is in awe of the amazing work being done by journalists, communicators, civil society, community organisers and activists who are figuring out creative ways to make sure valuable information is reaching the people in their communities.

Our research for this project is just getting started and we’re looking forward to continuing working with many of you as we build this work. Our next community call is happening on November 23, at 9am Ciudad de México, 10am Bogotá, 12pm São Paulo. (For this call, the main language of communication will be Spanish!)

We’ll continue to talk about what is needed for a stronger, healthier information ecosystem, this time focusing on questions like: What does it take to rebuild trust and foster a sense of community? And how do we build a less fragmented, more community-driven information ecosystem in our region? If you’re part of a collective or civil society organisation working to provide crucial information and/or combat disinformation in your communities, are working on local journalism or popular communications, or are building community-driven information initiatives, join us!

Photo by Juan Saravia on Unsplash