In recent weeks, those Venezuelan radio stations that do not toe the official line have faced huge pressure: from specific programs being taken off the air on CONATEL’s orders, to the extreme ordeal recently suffered by Radio Fe y Alegría 92.1 FM, in Delta Amacuro.
But since last year, a large number of stations have been shut down across the land under the argument that their broadcasting licenses have expired. And in some cases, the frequency is taken over by a replacement right away. Just ask the folks of 92.9 FM, in Caracas.
A new report by IPYS Venezuela, titled “Stations on the edge” (Emisoras en vilo), presents how many radio stations have seen their attempts to renew their licenses over the years crash against an official wall of administrative silence.
Since last year, a large number of stations have been shut down across the land under the argument that their broadcasting licenses have expired.
At the heart of the issue is Article 31 of the current Telecommunications Organic Law, in which the official lack of response from the State regulator is considered a formal rejection. This, coupled with the long, long delays (on paper it should take 45 days, but it can really take years and years) in addition to the very broad discretionality create an uncertain atmosphere.
The “administrative silence” is a valid option for the State, as legislation on the matter (passed in 1981) allows it for all bureaucratic procedures. The opposition-controlled National Assembly proposed softening this practice for license renewals in 2016, without much success.
The report shows how vulnerable local radio stations outside Caracas are: owners are forced to go to the capital to (unsuccessfully) get answers from CONATEL, because regional offices don’t respond. Some are able to return to the air after being closed, but they’re still stuck in a legal limbo. Others see their equipments confiscated, as Article 172 of the same Telecommunications Law establishes this as a sanction for not having any legal clearance.
The report shows how vulnerable local radio stations outside Caracas are.
And this can fall into the absurd: on September 5, 2017, Fe y Alegria 88.1 FM in Maracaibo was informed by CONATEL that, because of license expiration, it had to be shutdown. One hour later, the same officer told 88.1 FM that they could return to the airwaves, after getting “orders from above.”
The hegemony itself doesn’t have this kind of trouble: Colombeia (under the Education Ministry’s banner) just got its license renewed. There’s more official media on the way, as the government has created by decree the Radio Miraflores Foundation, which probably means that the Presidency’s very own radio station is about to expand.
After all, its main slogan is “the voice of truth,” which cannot be more Orwellian if you tried.