Business & Economy

Venezuela steadily killing traditional medium of radio

By Genesis Carrero Soto

Caracas, Feb 13 (EFE).- Over the past 20 years in Venezuela, at least 285 radio stations have been shut down on orders of the National Telecommunications Commission (Contael) alleging, according to the affected stations, administrative irregularities, which defenders of freedom of expression say are arbitrary charges.

Carlos Correa, the director of the Espacio Publico (EP – Public Space) non-governmental organization, told EFE that besides some closures being implemented on the orders of public officials or for broadcasting criticism of the government, in other cases stations operating irregularly in some way have been shut down, a situation resulting from the fact that “administration of the airwave spectrum is in chaos,” something that facilitates arbitrary actions.

Correa said, on World Radio Day, celebrated each year on Feb. 13, that radio is “an entertainment, connection, proximity and company medium,” that – if harmed – “hits those possibilities in the most humble sectors” of society, and thus the government’s actions are of great concern to the sector.

According to the annual tally made by EP, in 2022, “the Venezuelan State ordered the closure of at least 80 stations nationwide,” making that 12-month period “the year with the most radio stations closed in the last two decades.”

The EP chief said that the policy move, which has mainly affected stations in the Venezuelan interior, reflects the weakening of freedom of expression, as it affects a significant portion of the 700 radio stations operating in Venezuela, which represent 71 percent of the active communications media outlets in the country.

He noted that, although the censure of – and attacks on – the media during the so-called Bolvarian Revolution have been broadly denounced, the lack of control by the government of the radio-electric spectrum has served as an excuse to facilitate arbitrary or discretionary measures of all kinds against radio stations.

“The disorder is a tool for censuring … This line of argument is used based on that, since it’s not part of the dynamic of restrictions. If you have a well-administered spectrum, you’re going to allow the public to be able to speak more freely, because you have guarantees but, if you don’t have that, you create a situation of vulnerability and then it’s functional to censorship,” he said.

Correa added that the organization of the radio spectrum is one of the pending tasks of the state and the fact that some stations are operating irregularly may be attributed to obstacles imposed by Conatel, among which the centralization of administrative procedures, the providing of short-term concessions and the awarding of licenses in a discriminatory manner stand out.

“The system of administration of the spectrum, just like happens with the system of justice and others, is a system that provides no guarantees, doesn’t give any certainty to anyone who’s operating and, as a result, facilitates arbitrariness,” Correa emphasized.

The activist also pointed to cases in which stations have been closed and then immediately a license to broadcast on the same radio frequency is awarded to another person or company, without any kind of bidding or correction period given to prior broadcasters.

In Correa’s judgment, this “deliberate disorder” in using the radio-electric spectrum has served as a framework for justifying the most recent closures, which have been denounced by assorted NGOs that last October rejected, in a communique signed by 40 organizations, the “massive suspension” of transmissions by dozens of stations in different Venezuelan states.

“In Venezuela, there’s disorder in the organization of the spectrum. That disorder is deliberate because there’s been time to organize it,” he said, adding that the surge in closures over the past year could be due to “a realignment of the structure of ownership of the radio stations” to favor “other actors within Chavismo,” the political movement that is in power in Venezuela.

The concern among organizations and activists increases when one recalls that radio is the communications medium that has the greatest penetration in Venezuela and that the closure of at least 80 radio stations last year has increased self-censorship and the fear of complaining among those who head radio stations.

In addition, the cessation of transmissions by each of the stations represents, Correa said, “a real reduction for the people who are more on the local level” and who have fewer options for accessing the communications media.

EFE contacted several directors and representatives of the radio stations that have been shut down in recent months, but they refused to comment on the motivations behind the closures of their stations.

EFE gcs/sb/bp

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