The Associated Press November 3, 2011, 6:55PM ET

Venezuelan troops seize radio station equipment

Dozens of National Guard soldiers seized broadcasting equipment from a radio station in western Venezuela on Thursday as part of an investigation by the broadcast regulatory agency, the station's owner said.

Jose Ramon Socorro, owner of Kalor 92.1 FM, said about 50 armed soldiers entered the station and confiscated its equipment.

The National Telecommunications Commission said Socorro's station and two others have been operating without government authorization, which allow officials to seize their broadcasting equipment.

Enrique Quintana, an operations manager for the regulatory agency, said in a statement that the three radio stations have 15 days to appeal the decision.

Officials at the commission did not answer telephone calls seeking additional details about the investigation.

Last year, President Hugo Chavez's government revoked the licenses of 34 radio stations, saying most of them failed to update their registrations or allowed their concessions to expire.

Last month, the telecommunications commission fined the opposition-aligned television channel Globovision more than $2 million for its coverage of a deadly prison rebellion that became a political headache for Chavez.

Human rights activists and press freedom groups have accused the government of trying to restrict and intimidate critical media outlets.

Chavez denies it, noting that many newspapers and broadcasters are strongly critical of his government and that some openly insult and mock him.

Socorro told Globovision that his radio station takes a "very balanced" editorial line.

Carlos Correa, a leader of the Venezuelan human rights group Espacio Publico, said he and other rights activists perceive "an increase of restrictions on the media," particularly small radio stations in Venezuela's sparsely populated rural regions.

Correa said the government's actions appear to be motivating some radio stations to tone down their criticism.

"Seeing that a critical media outlet is punished steers others toward self-censorship," he said.

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Christopher Toothaker on Twitter: http://twitter.com/ctoothaker


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