Radio station suspended in Venezuela

Bogotá, August 20, 2014–Venezuelan telecommunications regulator CONATEL shut down a critical radio station on Tuesday after refusing to renew the station’s expired transmission license, according to news reports. The move follows CONATEL’s suspension on Friday of a critical radio program on another station.

Officials from CONATEL arrived at the studio of Sensacional 94.7 FM, a popular radio station in Barinas, accompanied by National Guard troops, Althis Torrealba, owner of the station, told CPJ. The officials ordered the station to shut down immediately and cited the station’s expired license. Torrealba said the officials would not allow her to enter the studio.

A new station, called Radio Popular, immediately began transmitting music from Sensacional’s old 94.7 FM frequency, reports said.

Torrealba told CPJ that she had applied for the renewal of the station’s license long before it expired in January 2012. But, she said, CONATEL never responded to the renewal request. She said CONATEL’s move was a “political decision” stemming from the station’s news programming, which remained independent in a region where TV, radio and newspapers rarely criticize the government. She told CPJ that scores of other radio stations are also waiting for CONATEL to renew their licenses.

Delaying or denying the renewal of transmission licenses has been a key strategy for the Venezuelan government in its efforts to silence independent media outlets, according to CPJ research. CONATEL did not immediately comment on the shutdown and did not immediately respond to CPJ’s emails requesting comment.

“This is beginning to look like a disturbing pattern of censorship,” said CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney from New York. “We condemn the silencing of independent news sources and call on the government to immediately allow all radio stations to resume operations.”

In May 2012, the Caracas-based Institute for Press and Society, or IPYS, reported that CONATEL officials wanted Sensacional to cancel news and opinion programs hosted by four journalists who often criticized the government and to reduce the air time of another program as a condition for the renewal of its license. A program hosted by Laure Nicotra on Sensacional was subsequently canceled, IPYS reported. Nicotra blamed the move on pressure from Barinas Governor Adán Chávez, the older brother of the late president Hugo Chávez.

On Friday, CONATEL ordered the suspension of “Aquí entre tú y yo,” a weekday news and opinion radio program on the popular AM station Radio Caracas Radio, or RCR, according to reports. The regulator said it was launching an administrative investigation into the program, which it said may have violated the law. The program has been off the air since Friday.