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CONATEL determines that radio station critical of the government should be shut down

(Fundamedios/IFEX) - On 16 December 2010, the National Telecommunications Council (CONATEL) determined that the Telecommunications Superintendence (SUPERTEL) should proceed to "close down the radio station" owned by journalist Wilson Cabrera, after rejecting the extraordinary appeal for a review filed by Cabrera regarding the failure to renew the La Voz de la Esmeralda Oriental Canela radio station's frequency licence. The station operates in Macas, a city located 647 kilometres southeast of Quito.

The CONATEL decision rectified its previous 17 September ruling, which involved a refusal to renew the licence contract because the station had been sanctioned for committing an administrative offence by "operating as a relay station for the cities of Pablo VI and Huamboya, in the Morona Santiago province, without the necessary authorisation."

In his defence, Cabrera said the decision is unfair as he would be sanctioned twice for one offence. He also pointed out the existence of a technical report that backs him up.

It is worth noting that Cabrera previously told Fundamedios that Vethowen Chica, a ruling party representative in the National Assembly, had been pressuring CONATEL to issue the resolution against the station. Chica publicly declared that "the station will be closed because of arbitrary actions regarding the frequency." This has led the journalist to believe that the refusal to renew the licence is related to his repeated criticisms of the legislator and the government broadcast via his program "Primera Plana".

Juan Carlos Solines, a lawyer who is an expert in telecommunications, told Fundamedios that CONATEL is contravening the law since, once a frequency has been granted following established procedures, the Broadcasting and Television Law states in Article 9 that the concession "will be renewable consecutively with the same station(s) and for equal periods without requirements beyond a verification by the Telecommunications Superintendence, based on regular technical and administrative controls, that the station is acting according to the Law and its rules and regulations." Therefore, the refusal to renew a licence should be an administrative act derived from technical and administrative reports establishing the precise reasons for the refusal.

Public officials do not have the authority to decide on the licencing of broadcast frequencies. The use of frequencies can be requested by individuals and legal entities who must comply with the requirements established by law and present the information requested. Item a) of Article 67 of the Broadcasting and Television Law considers renewal to be a right of those who already have a licence and who comply with the requirements in order to keep it for consecutive periods. This regulation aims to provide security to those who invest in an activity that operates using a state-owned natural resource and whose continuity cannot depend on the will or the judgment of those who are in office.

Although it is true that an amendment to Article 20 of the Broadcasting and Television Law's General Regulations introduced in January 2007 eliminated the specific requirements established for the renewal of frequencies, this does not mean that it bestows on any public official the authority to decide on licences.
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