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Controversy after broadcasting authority forces TV station off the air

(RSF/IFEX) - 31 March 2010 - Canal 53, a privately-owned television station also known as Cibao TV Club that is based in the city of Santiago de los Caballeros, was forced to cease operations on 25 March 2010 following a controversial order by the Dominican Telecommunications Institute (Indotel), which accused it of "illegal broadcasting".

The controversy is due to the fact that the order was issued after Ernesto Fadul, the host of the programme "En Salud" and the brother of industry and commerce minister Ramón Fadul, referred on the air to President Leonel Fernández's aides and other government officials as "thieves" and "protectors of drug traffickers" ( ).

Indotel's version of events differs in every respect from Canal 53's. Indotel, which is the broadcasting regulatory authority, insists that all it did was withdraw two terrestrial broadcast frequencies which Canal 53 was using illegally, and that the station can continue broadcasting by cable.

This is denied by Canal 53 owner Víctor Tejeda, who says the station has had to stop broadcasting altogether because the authorities confiscated its cable transmission equipment. Canal 53 had been broadcasting for more than 20 years.

If it is confirmed that the authorities did close down Canal 53, then they chose the worst possible way to punish a TV station for comments that could be considered defamatory or for the illegal use of frequencies, RSF noted. Such a procedure is a violation of free expression. It also directly violates the relevant Inter-American legal standards.

"Certain government officials may rightly consider themselves to have been defamed by Ernesto Fadul's comments," said RSF. "But in that case, they should bring a lawsuit and seek payment of damages. Indotel has every right to stop a TV station using frequencies illegally, but it has no right to seize the station's own equipment and thereby force it off the air altogether."

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