Fundamedios has warned of the lack of independent oversight in the tender process for the award of 1,472 radio and television frequencies in Ecuador. This is one of the main criticisms of a process that would be the largest of its kind in the history of the region and has generated serious doubts about the lack of parameters that meet the principles of independence, transparency, accountability, justice, plurality and inclusion.
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On June 1, a group of allegedly self-convened citizens announced the establishment of an oversight committee for the tender process. However, according to Fundamedios, four of the six members should be disqualified because they have ties with the current Government or are public servants. According to Article 16 of the Regulation, anyone with a direct or indirect conflict of interest or any linkage with the object or implementation of oversight should be precluded from an oversight committee.
These links contravene the principle of independence required from an oversight committee, impeding its aim of guaranteeing transparency and integrity. At stake in this tender are nearly a thousand radio frequencies (846 FM and 148 AM) and 478 UHF television frequencies. These include the frequencies of radio stations with key news programs such as Radio Vision, Centro, EXA Democracia, Sucesos, Platinum FM, Sonorama and FM Mundo.
No tender will be held for VHF television stations. Thus, frequencies for 180 stations will expire, including those licensed to Ecuavisa, Teleamazonas, GamaTV and Telerama. These stations must bid for a UHF frequency, meaning they will have to change channel just before the presidential and legislative elections due to be held in February 2017.
The Agency for the Regulation & Control of Telecommunications (Arcotel) and the Council for the Regulation & Development of Information & Communication (Cordicom) convened the tender on April 12. This was done without heed to their own rules and regulations, which require an official oversight committee to be convened by the Council of Citizen Participation (CPCCS), the body responsible for the tracking and control of this process.
The General Regulation on Oversight provides for three types of committees: a citizens’ initiative in the form of a collective; societal organizations; or via CPCCS. In the interests of transparency, Arcotel and Cordicom should ask the Council to convene an oversight committee or, in turn, could convene the committee on their own initiative. This is key considering the magnitude of a tender that will decide the fate of 65% of all radio and television media in the country.
The Communications Act, passed in June 2013, established the requirement for radio spectrum frequency concessions to be awarded via public tender. To date, two previous tenders for community frequencies, held in 2012 and 2014, were unsuccessful. The same law establishes that 33% of frequencies must be awarded to private media, 33% to public media and 34% to community media. However, the Telecommunications Minister Augusto Espin has stated that these percentages will not be met with the current tender process.
In this situation, Fundamedios again calls for the immediate suspension of the current tender so that a process can be convened that meets international standards. Continuing with the tender under current conditions brings an imminent risk that many lawsuits will be filed against the Ecuadorian State.