Televicentro: A New Channel Without Competition

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Mexican-American magnate Remigio Ángel González continues to consolidate his media conglomerate in Ecuador. On February 1, 2016, he launched a new channel, Televicentro, with almost no fanfare. The channel has already sparked controversy, as its launch demonstrates that González received approval from Government authorities to obtain new broadcast frequencies and change their use.

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Televicentro has three news shows with the same publishing company as the daily newspaper El Comercio, which was bought by a company linked to the González empire. The network of Uruguayan and Panamanian firms behind this transaction was revealed by the newspaper El Universo in February 2015.

Both the Constitution and the Law on Communication state that frequencies are allocated via public tender. Until the call for bids is announced, frequency reallocations by other means are suspended. However, Televicentro aired without competition.

The moves that led to the creation of the new channel began in July 2015. Ortel and Telecuatro, companies that broadcast the channel RTS, asked for four frequencies from Arcotel, the body which regulates the radio frequency spectrum. The application was for temporary, repeater frequencies for ‘research into new radio and television broadcasting technologies’. Following this request, Ortel and Telecuatro were allocated another channel: Televicentro. Telecuatro now transmits RTS; and Ortel, Televicentro.

To this end, they moved the RTS signal in Quito from 5 to 11; a channel that did not previously exist in the north of the capital. Something similar happened in Guayaquil, where channel 11 did not exist in the north of the city and is now Televicentro. The curious thing is that in the south of both cities, channel 11 had previously been allocated to GamaTV, a channel that had been seized and managed by the Ministry of Communication. But on August 5 and 7, the Manager of GamaTV, Claudio Moya Rossel, asked Arcotel to reallocate channel 11 in the south of the two cities to other frequencies. On August 17 he repeated his request and it was approved a day later. The same August 17, González’s companies requested the spaces now occupied by RTS and the new channel, Televicentro.

Arcotel not only approved the four frequencies requested by the González group (the frequencies for northern Quito and Guayaquil were delivered in 18 days; for the southern parts of the cities in 14 days). The body also accepted the description of ‘temporary use’ which, according to Arcotel’s rules, means the frequency will be used to research new broadcasting and television technologies. The supposed investigations by Ortel and Telecuatro involved ‘complete isofrecuency tests.’ This type of technology is used in digital television, whilst the new channel is VHF analog television.

Furthermore, the programming for channel 11 is listed as repetitive, i.e. retransmissions of content from parent channels. In Quito, RTS even used the matrix to broadcast the Community Newsletter. This scheme is similar to that already used by González in the nineties to obtain five radio stations and their signals in several cities, which were initially only allocated to him as repeaters.

The only official statement about the sudden appearance of Televicentro was given on February 5 by Telecommunications Minister Augusto Espin in an interview with Public Radio. Answering a question from a member of the public, Espin stated that there was no new channel, merely a change in trading name and programming schedule. He did not explain how the original channel, RTS, has kept its name and is still broadcasting.

The blessing of the authorities is evident. Whilst it was processing the new frequencies, Arcotel initiated a process to terminate the frequency concession to Telecuatro, citing as grounds a report from the Audit Committee on frequencies created by constitutional mandate in 2009. The process was not only shelved on September 18, but by then RTS had accumulated four more concessions. In addition, after GamaTV relinquished the southern frequencies, González took from that channel its traditional programming: Televisa.

The González network: the first private media monopoly
With its launch, Televicentro became the seventeenth media outlet in Ecuador related to the González empire, a network of companies and individuals that has been growing in Ecuador since 1983.

The El Comercio group, which includes Latest News, Radio Quito, Platinum FM and the daily newspaper El Comercio, is González’s latest acquisition. Last year, newspaper El Universo published an investigation into the connections between Ecuadorian and Uruguayan firms that were used to acquire the media group. González does not appear as an owner of any of the other outlets.

‘The Phantom’, as he is known in Latin America, owns 45 television stations, 68 radio stations, 65 film projection rooms, 3 satellite television chains and one print medium. These are listed on the website of Albavisión, González’s continental chain.

His latest acquisition makes ‘The Phantom’ Ecuador’s largest private monopoly:  operator of 87 radio and television frequencies, 66 repeaters and 19 matrices, plus two digital television stations. All this, even though the Constitution prohibits it.

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