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Judicial police and prosecutor's office close down radio station, seize its equipment

(Fundamedios/IFEX) - On Saturday 7 January 2012, members of the Judicial Police and the Prosecutor's Office closed down the Perla Orense radio station and seized its broadcasting equipment. The station operated in the Guabo canton in the province of El Oro, located approximately 527 km from Quito in southwestern Ecuador.

Guillermo Serrano, the legal director of D'Nany & Services, operator of frequency 89.5 FM radio station Perla Orense, the concession of which belongs to the Bananera Filadelfia SA company, questioned the legitimacy of the operation and the violent way in which the officials carried out the operation. "The officers entered forcefully, breaking glass and tables. They kicked and hit (people) and seized the materials," said Serrano.

The shutdown followed an order issued by the Superintendent of Communications (Superintendencia de Telecomunicaciones, SUPTEL), which stated that the station was operating illegally. This took place after the National Telecommunications Council (Consejo Nacional de Telecomunicaciones, CONATEL) resolved on 24 September 2010, through official document RTV 575-18, "to return the frequency in question to the State" because of a longer than six-month delay in payments corresponding to the rent of the concession, according to item i) of article 67 of the Broadcasting and Television Law.

Although Serrano admitted that the station had fallen behind in its payments, allegedly because it had not been notified about the payment dates, he stated that the shut down could be a reprisal against Perla Orense. The station has maintained a critical stance against the local government and the administration of the current mayor of Guabo, Jhon Franco Aguilar, member of the governing party Alianza País. Serrano also maintained that there were no legal grounds for closing down the station because "at the time when the resolution to return the frequency to the State was issued, we no longer owed any money, so that argument was no longer valid."

Serrano said that once they received notice of the arrears, they paid immediately and even filed a suit before the Administrative Disputes Tribunal to prevent the frequency reversion process from continuing. CONATEL had already rejected a previous appeal presented by Edwin Arturo Chunzo Hermida, manager and legal representative of Bananera Filadelfia.

Serrano finds it curious that in this province four other radio frequencies have reverted to the State and have filed lawsuits before the Administrative Disputes Tribunal but continue to operate, while Perla Orense was shut down even though SUPTEL officials had told them that they could continue broadcasting until the case was resolved.

On the other hand, the prosecutor of El Oro, Lenin Salinas, told the news portal ecuadorinmediato.com that, because the station's licence was no longer in effect, the authorities proceeded to occupy the radio station and seize its equipment, in compliance with an order issued by the Ninth Penal Guarantees Judge of El Oro.

Roberto Aspiazu, a member of CONATEL's board of directors, told Fundamedios that the law is clear concerning the revoking of frequencies when there is a delay in payments. He stated, however, without providing any names, that he knows cases of stations that continue to operate despite the cancellation of their licences.

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