Photo: IFEX retrieved

On the late morning of April 30th, while most of the country was on edge over the latest stage of the Operación Libertad next to La Carlota air base, the oldest functioning radio station in Venezuela was taken off the air: Radio Caracas Radio, RCTV’s big brother, was no longer available on its 750 AM dial after more than 89 years.

“It was a big hit at first for RCR’s workers, who were afraid for their jobs, always under threat for exercising their right to free press,” Jaime Nestares, the station’s director-general, told me. Hours after CONATEL’s order, RCR resumed activities as a digital-only service, available on its official website, YouTube and Instagram: “We’re not going to self-censor ourselves and we’ll keep saying what’s happening.”

As expected, the hegemony’s excuse is that RCR’s broadcasting license expired, although CONATEL’s documents show the station requested a renewal and that the government didn’t just ignore it, it let them work for almost 12 years after the license expired in 2007.

The oldest functioning radio station in Venezuela was taken off the air: Radio Caracas Radio, RCTV’s big brother, was no longer available on its 750 AM dial after more than 89 years.

This was the same argument used against RCTV: chavismo refused to comply with Article 210 of the Organic Telecommunications Law, regarding the transition of old licenses into the new legal framework, interpreting law at their convenience. This was confirmed with the 2015 ruling by the Inter-American Human Rights Court, claiming that RCTV’s signal should be fully restored.

CONATEL always had an eye on RCR: At least 42 investigations were opened by the state regulator against RCR shows, and two of those, Plomo parejo and Aquí entre tu y yo, were taken off the air in 2014. RCR’s sister station, 92.9 FM, was shutdown on 2017 and replaced with a llanero music station backed by the hegemony.

But that wasn’t the only action against a radio station on April 30th: In Maracaibo, officials visited LUZ Radio 102.9 FM and warned them of complying with the law after their content-monitoring system got an alert over the station’s programming. 102.9 FM was the first college radio in Venezuelan history and is one of three under the Zulia University network (the others are on the northern Zulia town of San Rafael del Mojan and in Punto Fijo, Falcon State).

Jesús Urbina, director of LUZ Radio Network, told me that CONATEL didn’t give specifics about what they considered a violation of the law by the station. He also confirmed that the current status of their broadcasting licenses is uncertain, after their renewal requests have been met with silence, along with the rest of college radios nationwide.

LUZ 102.9 FM was forced off the air between March 7th and April 22nd as consequence of the electric crisis affecting Venezuela, and specially Zulia, as we’ve covered here in CC. At the moment, they’re able to work Monday to Sunday from 8:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., despite some instability.

These two incidents were part of a larger pattern of aggression against the press during the incidents of last week. The National Press Workers’ Union (SNTP) reported that at least nine journalists were attacked on April 30th and a dozen more on May 1st in Caracas and other cities, from Barquisimeto to Punta de Mata (Monagas).

The current status of their broadcasting licenses is uncertain, after their renewal requests have been met with silence, along with the rest of college radios nationwide.

Two other international news channels were taken off from all cable and satellite TV services while covering the events live: BBC World News and CNN International. On the digital front, the number and magnitude of internet blockings intensified, according to NGO Ve Sin Filtro.

After only four months, 2019 is already in a good position to challenge the number of incidents against freedom of speech from previous years. This comes as NGO Espacio Público presented its annual report, showing the broad scale of restrictions that Venezuelans have in order to get news.

Please remember that ten Venezuelan states, mostly located in the Llanos, west and south, have no newspapers and their media ecosystem is controlled by chavismo, which favors hiding local issues, from faulting public services to criminal bands acting with impunity.

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