Venezuela assembly launches its own radio station

AP News
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Posted: Dec 15, 2009 6:39 PM

Lawmakers loyal to President Hugo Chavez inaugurated a state-run radio station Tuesday that replaces a previous broadcaster that sandwiched criticism of Venezuela's socialist leader between jazz and salsa music.

AN Radio _ named with the Spanish initials for the National Assembly _ took over the frequency used by the closed CNB 102.3 FM amid cheers from lawmakers.

Nelson Belfort, president of Venezuela's Radio Chamber, was the owner of the previous station until July, when state broadcasting regulators revoked its license.

CNB was one of 34 radio stations that regulators closed, saying some failed to update their registrations or allowed their concessions to expire while others held licenses granted to an operator now deceased. The move raised concerns among press freedom watchdogs and human rights groups that have accused Chavez's government of trying to stifle dissent.

It remains unclear what the government will do with the frequencies of the other 33 stations that lost their licenses, but Chavez has said the revoked licenses could be given to broadcasters who share his socialist vision.

"It will be the assembly's voice," National Assembly President Cilia Flores, a close Chavez ally, said of the new station. "Through AN Radio we are going to contribute to our obligation and responsibility to inform and promote the cause of the people."

William Echeverria, president of the National Association of Journalists, accused government officials of unfairly targeting CNB. The station's "only crime was broadcasting a very critical program," he said, referring to "Hello Citizen," a popular evening talk show that regularly takes digs at Chavez while criticizing his government's populist policies.

The replacement of CNB "limits freedom of expression," Echeverria said.

More than 200 other radio stations are currently under investigation for allegedly failing to update their registrations or allowing their concessions to expire.