Military shuts down two radio stations in central Guárico province


New York, August 20, 2008Military personnel and officials from the National Telecommunications Commission (Conatel) shut down two radio stations in the central Guárico province Monday night. The Committee to Protect Journalists is concerned that the stations appear to have been singled out and subjected to disproportionate enforcement.

Around 6:30 p.m. on Monday, at least 20 members of the Venezuelan army raided and then sealed the offices of local radio stations Rumbera Network 101.5 FM and Llanera 91.3 FM in San Juan de los Morros, capital of Guárico, according to press reports and CPJ interviews. The soldiers were accompanying Conatel officials who ordered the closure of the two stations and the seizure of their equipment, the local daily El Nacionalista reported. The stations—housed in the same building but owned separately—remained off the air today, said a local journalist who spoke on condition of anonymity.

In a statement issued on Monday, Conatel said it took action against the two stations because they were operating illegally. Peter Taffin, president of Rumbera Network, and Alex Velásquez, director of Llanera 91.3 FM, told local reporters that the radio stations had been operating without proper licensing but were in the process of obtaining the necessary permits.

Hundreds of radio stations are operating illegally in Venezuela but are typically allowed to continue broadcasting as they seek licenses, Andrés Cañizales, journalist and media expert at the Universidad Católica Andrés Bello in Caracas, told CPJ.

Llanera 91.3 FM airs local news, government-sponsored news bulletins, and folk music programs, said the local journalist who spoke to CPJ. Its editorial line supports the local government, the journalist said. According to local press reports, Rumbera Network 101.5 FM does not air news programming.

Guárico Gov. Eduardo Manuitt, who has recently been involved in a public political feud with President Hugo Chávez, told the Venezuelan press that he believes the radio stations had been shut down in retaliation for their criticism of former Information Minister Willian Lara, who is running for governor. Marcos Hernández, Conatel’s manager of social responsibility, denied the accusations, according to reports in the Venezuelan press.

“Sending the army to close down radio stations seems excessive,” said CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney. “Rumbera Network 101.5 FM and Llanera 91.3 FM were only doing what hundreds of other stations do—going on the air while waiting for their broadcast licenses. Without a detailed explanation from the telecommunications authorities, it is hard to escape the conclusion that they have been shuttered for their coverage.”

In May 2007, RCTV, the country’s oldest private television went off the air after an unprecedented decision by the Venezuelan government not to renew its broadcast concession. RCTV Internacional launched a paid subscription service via cable and satellite on July 16, 2007, which continues to offer critical programming.