Ecuadoran radio denied license renewal on bogus charges

New York, January 5, 2011–An Ecuadoran provincial radio station known for its criticism of local authorities was denied its license renewal based on bogus administrative violations, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. Ecuadoran regulators must allow the station to report the news freely, CPJ said. 

“The decision to shut down Voz de la Esmeralda Oriental Canela Radio is clearly arbitrary and intended to silence a critical voice,” said Carlos Lauría, senior program coordinator for the Americas. “We call on Ecuadoran authorities to overturn this decision and allow the station to broadcast the news without official interference.”

On December 16, the National Council of Telecommunications (CONATEL) ordered the closure of Voz de la Esmeralda Oriental Canela Radio in the Morona Santiago province. In September, CONATEL had denied the renewal of the station’s license (first issued in 2000), arguing that it had been “operating as a relay station for the cities of Pablo VI and Huamboya, in the Morona Santiago province, without the necessary authorization,” according to the local press group Fundamedios. The Ecuadoran telecommunications law does not stipulate the cancellation of broadcast concessions for this kind of alleged violation, according to CPJ research and local experts. 

Owner Wilson Cabrera denied that the station had broadcast into neighboring cities. In 2006, Cabrera had requested authorization to transmit in those cities but was never granted permission, he told CPJ. He claims he later conducted a two-hour test audition with the approval of Ecuadoran regulators. In 2008, Cabrera was fined US$40 for the alleged fault, which he paid while disputing it.

The station has appealed before an Ecuadoran court, arguing that the decision is unconstitutional, Cabrera told CPJ. It continues to broadcast pending the appeal.

Cabrera also hosts daily news segments that are critical of the local and national government, and have angered Ecuadoran authorities. A few days before CONATEL ordered the station’s closure, national Assemblyman Vethowen Chica–who Cabrera has criticized in his program–said during a radio interview that Cabrera’s station would soon be closed due to the misuse of the frequency, Fundamedios reported. Cabrera said he believes that Chica pressured CONATEL to sanction the station.