Reporters Without Borders wrote today to Miguel Edilberto Vélez Núñez, the head of the National Telecommunications Commission (CONATEL), deploring its persecution of community radio stations affiliated to the Honduran Council of Popular and Indigenous Civic Organizations (COPINH).
Mr. Miguel Edilberto Vélez Núñez
President of CONATEL
Dear Mr. Vélez Núñez,
Representatives of the National Telecommunications Commission (CONATEL) went to the headquarters of the Honduran Council of Popular and Indigenous Civic Organizations (COPINH) in Intibucá on 13 November and behaved in a manner towards three COPINH community radio stations that Reporters Without Borders regards as dictatorial.
On the basis of a complaint dating back to 2007, which its own legal department repeatedly rejected, CONATEL ordered Radio Guarajambala FM to reduce the strength of its broadcasts and switch to another frequency (although it has been broadcasting on the same frequency since its creation in 2002).
CONATEL’s representatives also told COPINH’s members that if they did not carry out the required changes within 10 days, their broadcast material would be confiscated and they would be fined at least 1 million lempiras (40,000 euros).
COPINH has three community radio stations – Radio Guarajambala FM, La Voz Lenca FM and La Voz Lenca AM. Members of the Mesoamerican Network of Indigenous and Garifuna Community Radio Stations and of AMARC-Honduras, these three radio stations received licences from CONATEL that proved to be unusable.
The frequencies assigned to them were already used by evangelical or commercial radio stations, which resulted in frequency saturation and interference. COPINH complained about these irregularities but CONATEL took no action although it had promised to carry out a field inspection. As a result, COPINH began broadcasting on other frequencies on its own initiative.
COPINH’s right as an indigenous organization to have its own means of communication is guaranteed by the International Labour Organization’s Convention No. 169 and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
CONATEL has since 2007 been accusing COPINH’s radio stations of broadcasting on a frequency that interferes with Radio Metropolis. COPINH’s members have already gone to CONATEL’s legal department several times to sort out the problem, and each time it has been proved that the complaint is baseless because Radio Metropolis broadcast on the FM waveband from Comayagua, in another department.
Nonetheless, it was on the basis of the same, repeatedly-disproved accusation that CONATEL returned to the attack on 13 November.
It is time for CONATEL to act in a clear and rational manner. Reporters Without Borders, an international organization that defends freedom of information, urges you to agree to the meeting that COPINH’s members proposed this week in order to try to establish norms for the communication, information and broadcasting rights of community radio stations and effectively apply the various agreements reached in recent talks about assigning five new frequencies.
Community and civil society media were created with the aim of providing alternative news and information about subjects that affect indigenous communities.
The COPINH radio stations blame the threats, censorship attempts and direct attacks they often receive on their coverage of repressive policies including the murders of peasants in the Aguán region and the seizure of land from the indigenous Lenca, and corruption in the Intibucá region. Those who express or repeat a critical opinion must stop being criminalized.
On 5 January 2011, personnel wearing the uniforms of technicians and power service employees burst into the COPINH offices housing the Radio Guarajambala FM and La Voz Lenca AM studios and disconnected the power supply, forcing the stations off the air and leaving them unable to broadcast.
According to COPINH, the two employees were sent by foreign minister Arturo Corrales Álvarez, who is a shareholder in the Honduran Power Measurement Service (SEMEH). They threatened to kill COPINH’s members and physically attacked one of them.
On 3 February 2011, CONATEL announced a draft resolution designed to suspend the granting of frequencies to low broadcast-strength radio stations, eliciting an immediate response from COPINH condemning the measure as indirect censorship and as way to limit community media.
As regards 13 November’s repressive measures, COPINH suspects that they were a reprisal for its criticism of the mayor of Intibucá’s election campaign.
It is time that President Porfirio Lobo Sosa respected the undertaking he gave in Geneva in 2010 when he said that Honduras would be the country that respected and implemented the freedom of expression criteria established and recommended by the United Nations.
Community radio stations must cease to be the constant targets of threats and harassment. Real media pluralism must be restored and impunity for crimes of violence against journalists, media and human rights defenders must stop. A total of 31 journalists have been killed in the past decade, 26 of them since 2009.
At a time when Honduras’ political parties are beginning to hold primaries, this climate of violence and persecution of those who exercise the freedom to inform others is undermining the credibility of the democratic process. Your response will be a strong indicator of the political intentions of the government of which you are a representative.
I thank you in advance for the attention you give to this letter.
Reporters Without Borders secretary-general