- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 4, 2009

For the first time in decades, CNB 102.3 FM fell silent over the weekend after Venezuela’s telecommunications regulators revoked some of the 34 stations’ licenses and refused to renew others.

But CNB challenged the government action within hours by starting to transmit programming over the Internet. Sportscaster Juan Carlos Rutilo told his online listeners: “Today, freedom of expression is being restricted. Today, you have one less option.”

Media groups and human rights activists note that more than 200 other stations are under investigation for purportedly not being properly licensed and accuse Venezuela’s leftist leader of pursuing a widening crackdown to silence dissent.

In a similar step, one of Mr. Chavez’s leftist allies, Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa, announced Monday that “many” radio and TV frequencies would revert to the state over what he called irregularities in their licenses. He gave no specifics.

A majority of the stations affected in Venezuela aired criticisms of the government, though they were not overtly anti-Chavez. The country still has many private radio stations and newspapers that take a hard line against Mr. Chavez and strongly criticize the government through both news reports and commentary.

The only stridently anti-Chavez television channel that remains on the open airwaves, Globovision, is facing multiple investigations that could force it off the air.

Tensions ran high at Globovision’s studios Monday as government supporters, riding motorcycles and waving the flags of a radical pro-Chavez party, tossed tear gas canisters at the station.

Globovision’s director, Alberto Federico Ravell, condemned the violence and urged Mr. Chavez to control his backers. He said some of some of the armed assailants threatened security guards.

The telecommunications agency’s decision to act against the 34 radio stations set off an outcry from press freedom groups and rights activists, who contend Mr. Chavez is trying to gradually push aside critical voices.

Public Works Minister Diosdado Cabello, who heads the telecommunications agency, denied the government is trying to punish critics.

Mr. Cabello said the stations violated regulations by failing to update their registrations or allowing their licenses to expire. Others held licenses granted to a person who is now deceased, he said.

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