July 17, 2012
Fabián Jaramillo Palacios
Director of Telecommunications
Superintendencia de Telecomunicaciones
Edificio Matriz: 9 de Octubre 1645 (N 27-75) y Berlín
Dear Mr. Jaramillo:
The Committee to Protect Journalists is deeply concerned by the closure of at least 11 Ecuadoran broadcasters since May. Our review of the closures, detailed in an attached list, found that in some instances government regulators did not follow the due process guarantees specified by law. CPJ’s review also found that more than half of the stations that were closed had been critical of the government. While the government has the right to regulate the airwaves, it also has an obligation to do so in a transparent and unbiased manner.
On June 12, you said in a radio interview that the 11 stations were among at least 20 broadcasters that the government would close because of alleged late payments for the rental of their frequencies or for technical or administrative violations. Under the broadcast law, the government may shut down stations when they fall six months behind in frequency rental payments. However, stations may appeal to the District Administrative Litigation Court, and, according to Article 67 of the law, the court must issue a final ruling before the closures may proceed. CPJ’s review found that several broadcasters had been closed even though their appeals were still pending.
CPJ is also concerned that some closures could have been motivated by the stations’ criticism of authorities. Some station owners and managers told CPJ and local journalists that they were targeted after airing news reports that were critical of the government. They also claimed the government intended to turn over many of the vacated frequencies to newly formed community radio stations that support the government.
We are concerned these closures reflect an effort to control the flow of information, suppress dissent, and expand pro-government media. We call on you to allow the stations to resume broadcasting and ensure that all critical voices in the country are able to report freely without undue government interference.
Thank you for your attention to this important matter. We look forward to your response.
At least 11 broadcasters have been shut down since May:
- Police seized the equipment of Radio Morena in Guayaquil on July 6 and closed the station, according to news reports. Authorities claimed the station owed eight months in frequency rental payments and was using unauthorized antennas and frequencies. But the station’s general manager, Luis Almeida, an opposition legislator in the National Assembly, denied the charges and told reporters that the closure was in response to his political alliance with former president Lucio Gutiérrez, a fierce critic of the current administration.
- Radio Impacto, in the city of Latacunga, was closed on June 13 for alleged outstanding debts over rental payments, according to news reports. The station said at the time that they were in the process of appealing the closure.
- Radio K-Mil, in the western town of Huaquillas, had its broadcast concession suspended on June 12, allegedly for operating without permission, according to news reports. Authorities also confiscated its transmitter. The owner of the station told Fundamedios, a local press freedom group, that he had contested the technical grounds on which the license had been suspended.
- Authorities closed RU Matriz Cadena Sur Ecuador 1200 AM, in the southwestern city of Machala, on June 12, according to news reports. While authorities said the station’s permit hadn’t been renewed since 2009, the station said they had never received any notification regarding the suspension of a license.
- Radio Cosmopolita “La Pantera 960 AM,” in Quito, the capital, was closed after 59 years of operation and had its equipment confiscated on June 11 for outstanding debt over the rental of their frequency, according to news reports. Fernando Guanoluisa, the station’s director, told Fundamedios he believed the closure was in reprisal for an interview the station conducted a few weeks before with an opposition politician.
- On June 6, about 50 police officers knocked down the walls of Net, a radio station in Ambato, seized the station’s equipment, and shut it down, station manager Marco Armas told Fundamedios. Armas said the station, which was often critical of the government, had fallen behind in frequency rental payments but that the debt had since been paid off. He said that the station’s appeal was still pending when the station was closed.
- Police officers raided the offices of Lidervisión TV and Radio Líder in the northeastern province of Napo, confiscated equipment, and closed the facilities on May 24, Edison Chávez, the owner of both stations, told CPJ. He said the closures came after both stations reported extensively on a shortage of natural gas in Napo province. Chávez acknowledged falling behind in paying the roughly US$200 monthly rental fee but said he had paid off the debt and claimed the stations were shut down before the court ruled on its appeal.
- Radio El Dorado, in the northern town of Nueva Loja, was closed May 23, according to Fundamedios. The station’s manager, Ottos Flores, told Fundamedios the station owed US$72. Flores also said the authorities confiscated their equipment without prior notice. The station is appealing the decision, he said.
- Telesangay, a community television station in the Amazonian province of Morona Santiago, was closed by the government on May 23, the station reported. Telesangay acknowledged in a statement on its website that the station had not complied with administrative requirements, but did not elaborate. The statement alleged that the closing was in reprisal for its opposition to local mining and oil operations.
- Radio Sucre in Portoviejo closed on May 15 after being told its application to renew its license had been denied because it was not operating on the allotted frequency, according to news reports. The daily El Universo reported that the broadcaster was critical of the local and national governments.