Caracas, August 3, 2009 -- Venezuelanalysis.com -- The head of Venezuela's telecommunications agency (CONATEL) and minister of housing and infrastructure Diosdado Cabello announced on August 1 the immediate closure of 32 privately owned radio stations and two regional television stations, because their broadcast licences had expired or they had violated regulations. Cabello said the recovered licences would be handed to the community media. The minister said many of the stations were operating illegally and had failed to register or pay fees to CONATEL. Decisions are still pending on a further 206 stations.
Nelson Belfort, president of the Chamber of Radio Broadcasters and the Caracas-based Circuito Nacional Belfort, which owns five of the closed radio stations, described the move as a government "attack" that aims to limit freedom of expression. He said the CNB would appeal the decision.
However, Cabello explained that the measure is within the framework of the current law and that the licences are being revoked for violating regulations. "I challenge those who operate the Circuito Nacional Belfort to provide a document showing that CONATEL has authorised them to operate the 102.3 frequency. They are saying that the station is theirs and it's not true," Cabello declared. "They say that we are revoking concessions and that is not true. The state is simply recovering the concessions that were being used illegally for more than 30 years. It is an act of justice that has to do with giving power to people", he said.
The minister denied the government is trying to limit freedom of expression, saying those affected can continue transmitting their programs through the internet as the measure only applies to the use of the state-owned airwaves.
Cabello said that powerful families in Venezuela who had "swindled" the people had acquired many of the radio stations illegally and constituted "media latifundios" (a reference to large, privately owned estates). Twenty-seven families controlled more than 32% of the radio and television airwaves. Many of those affected own 10 to 20 or stations, the minister added.
New reforms to the telecommunications law aim to break up "media latifundios" by limiting ownership of radio or television stations to three per private owner, according to Cabello. Under the reforms broadcasting concessions are designated as non-inheritable property, and are therefore non-transferable to family or colleagues in the event of the death of a concession holder.
The minister warned that those who continue to operate illegally without permits will be subject to sanctions under the telecommunications law. "There are various penalties, including confiscation of equipment and secondly they will be subject to suspension, for five years, of activity in telecommunications and can go to jail if they repeat these actions. We will apply the law regardless of their surname, regardless of who their families are", he said.
In relation to a call by the private television station Globovision to protest in the streets against the measure, Cabello responded, "If you want to protest do so, but do not try to subvert the constitutional order, or call violent protests."
Around 200 people gathered to protest the decision outside the offices of CNB on August 1 and on August 3 a small group of journalists rallied in front of CONATEL.
However, many Venezuelans share little sympathy for the private media due to its role in the April 2002 coup that briefly ousted President Hugo Chavez from power. Private television and radio stations collaborated directly with the coup regime and imposed a media blackout, broadcasting cartoons and soap operas.
On July 23 the National Association of Free and Alternative Community Media (AMCLA) held a rally in Caracas calling for radio and television airwaves to be handed over to the people. Then on August 2 several hundred people rallied in front of CONATEL in support of the government measure.
Mireya Bolet, a councilor and resident of Chacao who attended the rally, said, "I'm totally in agreement with the measure that minister Diosdado Cabello has taken of placing the airwaves in the hands of the Venezuelan people."
President Chavez said on August 1 that the 34 stations were operating outside the law and have been recovered and would be handed over to community media.
The measure should be supported, Chavez argued, because the "radio stations now belong to the people and not the bourgeoisie". He stressed that the people must be the owners of the strategic means of production, and said that the Bolivarian government is also working on the recovery of other spaces.