CPJ condemns closure of provincial radio station in Ecuador

New York, April 5, 2011–The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the closure of a provincial Ecuadoran radio station and calls on local regulators to allow the station to resume broadcasting. Voz de la Selva Esmeralda Oriental Canela radio, known for its critical coverage of local authorities, had appealed an order to close the station on bogus administrate violations, according to CPJ research. The appeal was still pending when police shut it down. 

Around 10 a.m. on Sunday, local police removed Voz de la Selva Esmeralda Oriental Canela radio’s transmitters and cut its cables, the local press freedom group Fundamedios reported. Police were executing a December order issued by the National Council of Telecommunications (CONATEL) following the council’s denial of the station’s broadcast license renewal in September.

CONATEL alleged that Voz de la Selva 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 Fundamedios. The Ecuadoran telecommunications law does not stipulate the cancellation of broadcast concessions for this kind of alleged violation, according to CPJ research. 

“CPJ condemns the arbitrary shuttering of Voz de la Selva Radio, a measure that appears to be in retaliation for the station’s criticism of local authorities,” said Carlos Lauría, senior program coordinator for the Americas. “We call on Ecuadoran regulators to allow the station to resume broadcasting without further interference.”

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

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–whom Cabrera has criticized in his program–said during a radio interview that the 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.