The Paraguayan government offered state advertising to the owners of the more than 200 radio stations in the interior of the country in exchange for disseminating news that is favorable to the government, according to various media in the country.
In the meeting with the members of the Union of Broadcasters of Paraguay (URP), Vice-President of the Republic Juan Afara said: "We want you to designate the people that every fifteen days, or every month, we will meet to see what the pending tasks, (...) where we have to tighten up more so that the information reaches the people; clear information," ABC Color reported.
According to the audio transcript of the meeting that radio Ñanduti delivered to ABC Color, Afara also told the radio owners they would have a “political link” and a "commercial link" with the government that will be given through the Secretariat of Information and Communication (SICOM), whose minister is Fabricio Caligaris, and the National Telecommunications Commission (Conatel), chaired by Teresa Palacios. Both officials were also present at the meeting.
Additionally, the vice president stressed that Sicom and Conatel will have 90 days "to make this work well," ABC Color reported.
Caligaris later said, according to ABC color, that they will distribute 20 billion Guarani (about US $ 3.5 million) in state advertising to radio stations.
The president of Conatel, the agency responsible for the distribution of radio frequencies, told ABC Color that the meeting with Afara only dealt with the problem of the operation of pirate radios in the country.
Also, the head of URP, Javier Correa, told Última Hora that at the meeting,they talked with government officials about the existence of private radio stations in the country, in search of a solution. He ruled out that there had been conditions for the allocation of state advertising.
“I am not colorado or affiliated (to the ruling party), I was in my capacity with the union; their claim is that we will see also, and give space to, the good that is done (in the government), because not everything is bad. That’s what they asked for,” Correa said.
Pedro Alliana, a parliamentarian and president of the ruling National Republican Association (ANR for its acronym in Spanish), also known as the Partido Colorado, also participated in this meeting and asked the radios of the interior of the country to be "the voice of the leadership, the Party and the government,” according to ABC Color.
In this regard, Uruguayan lawyer Edison Lanza, Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), told the site Última Hora he was extremely concerned about the government's proposal to the Paraguayan radios, because it could seriously affect freedom of expression of that country.
"My intention is to remember the standards of the matter. For some years, the IACHR has regulated this issue that deserves attention because many resources were used to punish enemies that the Government considers to be opposition; The Government has to be neutral in the circulation of information,” Lanza told Última Hora.
Lanza also explained to the media that using state advertising as a reward or punishment can condition the freedom of a media and put pressure on them.
The renowned and honored Paraguayan journalist Humberto Rubín (81), director and founder of Radio Ñanduti, criticized the government for wanting to take advantage of the precarious conditions with which radios work in the interior of the country, La Unión reported.
"Today I spoke with one of them (a radio owner) and the opportunity to receive some Guarani (money) seemed fantastic to them," Rubin said.
According to La Unión, the veteran journalist compared the current president Horacio Cartes with the Paraguayan dictator Alfredo Stroessner, remembering that during the dictatorship (1954-1989) the radio stations were submitted to the government.
They transmitted the government program "La voz del coloradísimo," a space where political propaganda was made and opponents were attacked, according to Última Hora.
Also, Senator Enrique Bacchetta told Radio 1000 that it is regrettable that the government is "extorting" radios in the interior of the country, in order to "spread the 'good news'" of President Cartes' administration. Bacchetta stressed that Paraguay is experiencing a "democratic backlash".
Marito Abdo, senator-elect and dissident of the ANR - Colorado Party, said in his Facebook account that more than a year ago "we started to denounce the purchase of newspapers, television stations and the last announcement of wanting to control the programming of independent radios, by the Cartes government.”
Abdo announced that they will exhaust national resources and that they will go to the IACHR to denounce the intention of the government to exercise control over independent radios.
Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.