It was the El Guardián, a newspaper in Costa Rica, that shed light on the amounts paid to the state by radio stations as frequency licence fees. It wrote to the press office of the Ministry of Science, Innovation, Technology and Telecommunications (MICITT), which provided the list of stations with the relevant amounts in Costa Rican colón (it takes 667 for one US dollar, at the current exchange rate). The amounts are small, considering that the annual average income in 2020 was USD 12,076.81 and the monthly minimum wage USD 402. FM stations pay an average of 6,000 colóns per year (about 9 US dollars); 1,000 to 2,000 for medium-wave broadcasters (1.5 to 3 US dollars) and 1,500 to 5,000 for transfer bridges (2.25 to 7.50 US dollars). Here is the list of broadcasters, whose names are listed in the concession.
The closure, on 1 August 2022, of eight Catholic radio stations linked to Bishop Rolando José Álvarez of the diocese of Matagalpa (we reported on it here) was only the beginning. Telcor, the Nicaraguan communications regulator, deactivated other radio and television channels, again on the grounds that they were no longer authorised, bringing the number of closures to 17. Last in order, Radio Dario (89.3 in León), considered one of the few voices critical of Ortega, was deactivated on 12 August. For 73 years, it was the oldest Nicaraguan radio station and had managed to continue operations despite an arson attack in 2018, during anti-government protests, that had destroyed the studios.
The list of closures grows longer
Radio La Guarachera, operating on 96.5 in Chinandega, and Radio Sky, on 102.9 in León, both owned by exiled journalist Anibal Toruño, went off the air. And then Radio San Carlos 94.9, owned by the exiled former liberal mayor of the municipality of San Carlos, Silvio Linarte. The same fate befell Radio Vos, a community radio station that promotes and defends women’s rights and had followed events: it had been broadcasting for 18 years on 101.7, in Matagalpa. Finally, Radio Stereo Sol, on 102.5 from Santa Maria de Pantasma, has been on air for 16 years. Also, there are two television channels from Nueva Guinea: Canal NGTV3, owned by journalist Carlos José Suárez Jaime, and Canal RB3, owned by Daniel Mendoza, who inaugurated it 24 years ago.
Less and less opposition
According to the Nicaraguan movement of independent journalists and communicators (PCIN), the Ortega government has exiled more than 120 journalists, including the editorial staff of the daily newspaper La Prensa, making criticism of the government disappear from the written press, television and radio programmes. An estimated 30 stations have been closed since 2014, more than half in August 2022 alone.
Consequences also for the bishop Rolando José Álvarez: because he had refused to have the stations closed down, he was forced to remain locked in the curia for 16 days, controlled by the national police, who eventually placed him under arrest.
In his sermons, Bishop Rolando José Álvarez of the Diocese of Matagalpa was not soft on President Daniel Ortega. And in the end, his voice was silenced: the Instituto Nicaragüense de Telecomunicaciones y Correos (TELCOR) enjoined the closure of eight stations in the diocese as of Aug. 1, 2022, because they allegedly lacked a broadcasting license, which expired on Jan. 30, 2003. But the diocese denies this reading of the facts, pointing out that the documentation was personally presented by the bishop to TELCOR’s then executive chairman, Engineer Orlando Castillo, on June 7, 2016. To prove it, there is even a receipt that had been issued, yet the regulator’s official response never came, probably to keep the stations in check. The closed stations are: Radio Hermanos de Matagalpa (92.3 MHz), Radio Santa Lucía de Ciudad Darío (88.7), Radio Católica de Sébaco (88.9), Radio Nuestra Señora de Lourdes de El Tuma-La Dalia (99. 9), Radio Nuestra Señora de Fátima de Rancho Grande (88.7), Radio San José de Matiguas (107.7), Radio Monte Carmelo del Rio Blanco (98.9) and Radio Alliens del San Dionisio (88.9).
We reported (March 2021) on the sale of several foreign holdings by the Prisa group (see here). The company, which is present in 24 countries, owns brands such as Santillana (prints 106.5 million books that reach 34 million students in Latin America every year), El País (Spain’s largest daily newspaper), Los40 (founded in 1966 as a programme of Cadena Ser, since 1979 a network in Spain, it is present in several Latin American countries), and Cadena Ser (the radio network listened to by four out of ten Spaniards).
In Central America, the elimination of the editorial staff of Radio Panamá (27 people, including the staff of Los40) and the consequent suspension of broadcasting is not going unnoticed. The former director of information services Edwin Cabrera told the Panamanian newspaper La Prensa that the owners had wanted to get rid of the journalists for some time and had challenged the dismissal. He doubts the reasons for the opaque operation and speculates that behind the economic issues there may be an exchange of favours with political power to silence an uncomfortable voice.
We have already talked about the role played by community radio stations during the pandemic, in involving the population in rural areas and explaining the safety measures needed to prevent infection. The biggest problem is language barriers, such as those that Radio Naköj, a Guatemalan radio station that since 2013 has been speaking to the Kaqchikels, one of the indigenous Mayan peoples of the highlands, has been able to overcome with ease. The station, which broadcasts on 99.1 MHz from Santo Domingo Xenacoj, a municipality in the department of Sacatepéquez, aired stories with educational messages on how to prevent contagion. Explaining with grace and imagination how to use a mask correctly, the importance of washing hands or even bartering strategies to deal with the economic crisis.
A battle against discrimination
An extensive article can be read in the periodical Lado B, which, in addition to the radio station’s activities, talks about the discrimination against indigenous peoples. Although they are not a minority, they represent 43.8% of the inhabitants out of a total of 16.6 million: of these, more than a million are Maya Kaqchikel. Yet, the state does not inform them in their own language and allocates only a third of its spending (compared to mestizos and Latinos) for health services, education and social protection.
With the pandemic, many Honduran radio stations have had to suspend broadcasts for four to five months because staff became ill and because of the economic crisis that has forced many companies to close, increasing unemployment. Now, fearing that the situation in the South American country will worsen, Carlos Enamorado, secretary of the Community Media Association of Honduras (AMCH), is asking for international aid to survive. In Honduras today there are more than 50 community broadcasters (not all of them authorized), of which 35 are active, and three community television channels, authorized but not yet operational due to the investments required to start broadcasting. More than 400 non-Community radio and television stations are active in the country. The HolaNews article discusses the situation in detail.
The voice-over, typical of the Cuban announcer, has become a reference model in Latin America, where it has imposed itself thanks to the professionalism and the many radio stations with an international vocation and especially the programs broadcast on short waves by Radio Habana Cuba. “The word “, writes Jorge Rivas Rodriguez in Cuba Periodistas, “is one of the professions that most touches the cultural, educational, ideological and informative formation of Cubans, has the magic of persuasion, the power to stimulate feelings and emotions through the domain of the word that has become a watermark for our ears”. The announcers, who celebrated their national day in December, are hundreds of professionals from national TV and regional offices, employed in the country’s nearly one hundred stations or working on Radio Habana Cuba‘s international programs.
The in-depth study can be read here.
The Nicaraguan radio station’s medium wave transmission antennas have been sabotaged again on July 12th, 2020. With 25 kW of power their broadcasts are receivable in a large part of the Central American country. Some cables taking the signal to the antenna were cut, thus damaging the transmitter and interrupting the service. The radio station is continuing on 97.5 MHz FM (with 1 kW and limited coverage) as well as on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube. According to the technicians, repair work could take four months.
On examining where the material had been removed, the radio station’s technicians suspect that the thieves knew exactly how the antennas worked. A political motive is also suspected. Radio Corporación is the top radio station in the country and has continuously broadcast civil protests against the authoritarian regime of President Daniel Ortega.