Venezuela to Revoke Radio Licenses in Latest Communication Shutdown

The head of Venezuela's telecommunications regulatory agency said Friday that 240 radio stations will have their licenses revoked for failing to update their registrations with the government.

A total of 86 AM radio stations and 154 FM stations have failed to turn in required documents, which will lead to the "recovery of all those concessions by the state," said Diosdado Cabello, who heads the telecommunications agency.

Cabello said the radio stations should "shut down their equipment right away because we're going to open administrative proceedings, and that involves seizure of equipment." He said stations using their frequency without government authorization could face sanctions.

The government last month began a process of updating the registration of TV and radio stations under a law regulating broadcasters, and demanded that all outlets file information with the regulatory agency by June 23 including details about assets and ownership.

Cabello, a close ally of President Hugo Chavez, said the radio stations that stand to lose their licenses "are not interested in updating their information" and aren't complying with the law. It remained unclear what recourse the stations might have.

The move comes amid tensions generated by investigations against opposition-aligned television channel Globovision that could lead to its closure.

Cabello said the government has also opened investigations into a group of unidentified broadcasters for airing segments by two non-governmental organizations supporting private property rights.

Regulatory officials notified Globovision on Friday that it is targeted in the new probe, the fifth in six months, said Ana Cristina Nunez, a lawyer for the channel. She said the agency ordered the channel to stop showing the commercials, calling it "one more act of intimidation."

Venezuela has many newspapers and radio stations that remain highly critical of Chavez's government. But Globovision has become the lone opposition channel on the open airwaves since another station, Radio Caracas Television, was forced off the airwaves in 2007 when Chavez refused to renew its license. That channel has since moved to cable.

Chavez has clashed repeatedly with private media outlets he accuses of plotting against him. He has also expanded the government's involvement in the media during his presidency.

The government now controls six television channels, including the Caracas-based international network Telesur, two national radio networks and other smaller media outlets including 600 radio stations and 72 community TV stations, said Marcelino Bisbal, a communications professor at Caracas' Andres Bello Catholic University.