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Radio presenter forced off air on orders of local mayor

(FLIP/IFEX) - José Manuel Díaz Barrios, a journalist for the programme "Tribuna Educativa", which is broadcast by the community radio station Radiograma Estéreo, reported that the mayor of Ariguaní, Rivelino Mendoza Ballestas, forced him off the air because of reports the journalist had aired on corruption, poor management of the educational system and problems with providing public services in the municipality.

Over many months, the mayor made defamatory statements about Díaz and demanded that he stop criticising his administration on his radio programme. Then, on 15 February 2009, Díaz was told by the station's owner, Ronin Ríos Liñán, who is also a city councillor, that he was not allowed to enter the station's facilities. Ríos explained to him that Mendoza had demanded that he take Díaz off the air or he would suspend the municipality's advertising contract with the station and that the station would not receive some new equipment that that city was going to donate to it.

Díaz told FLIP that the reprisal by Mendoza is the result of criticisms that the journalist made of the administration including the fact that for months some citizens had not had clean drinking water and others were "drowning" in the piles of garbage.

FLIP tried unsuccessfully to speak with Ríos and Mayor Mendoza.

Albert Díaz Rivera, one of Díaz's colleagues from "Tribuna Educativa", confirmed that the journalist was arbitrarily removed from his position on orders from the mayor because of his severe criticism of his administration.

Díaz has expressed concern for his personal safety, adding that he has seen unidentified individuals around his home who have left insulting pamphlets under his door.

FLIP sees these incidents as a violation of freedom of expression. The censorship of media content is clearly prohibited by the National Constitution and the American Convention on Human Rights. FLIP calls on the mayor to respond to these allegations and explain why he is using public funds to "punish" journalists and if he is using his high position to shut down media programmes.

FLIP also calls on local authorities to offer protection to Díaz.

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