The story of how Felipe González’s PSOE repressed free radio stations

“Supported by the need to reorganize the radioelectric space, the socialists were able to repress the free radio movement without the need to resort to openly coercive measures such as closures or sanctions”. It was the late 1980s. He had governed since 1982 the PSOE of Felipe González. And it was a time of boiling but also of repression of free and community radio stations.

The story of what happened at that time is collected down to the smallest detail in the book The voice of the voiceless (2022, Silex Editions). Its author is the historian Jose Emilio Perez Martinezwho has spent years investigating everything related to free and community radio stations in Spain.

“What could this political repression by the PSOE be due to? We believe the answer is to the perception of these stations as a danger, as a threat. And that from our perspective, has to be considered another triumph of free radios,” the book highlights in its conclusions.

The publication focuses mainly on the origins of this movement in the Community of Madrid, although it was very present throughout the State. It had special strength in Catalonia, where the first experiences of this type of radio station arose, as well as in Euskadi or the Valencian Country. These types of radios had a number of commonalities, with nuances between one and the other, such as assemblyism, criticism of the prevailing communication model or the confluence with other social movements. And a main one: non-profit. The mobilizations against NATO prior to the referendum of those years also provided an important boost.

The role of this type of media is widely recognized by entities such as UNESCO. And regulated in a very different way to the Spanish in neighboring countries such as France. There, for example, the social democrat François Mitterrand was the one who kept the radio space at the same time so that the radios could broadcast without problems. In addition, there is financing.

This type of radio had been operating in a somewhat illegal way since the late 70s. But there is a key date, which has now been precisely 35 years. On December 18, 1987, the Organic Telecommunications Law (LOT).

“It implies that the penalties and sanctions for infringing the rules contained in the law itself are intensified. They are issuing without a license or without approved devices. With the law of 1987, some things that did not exist before became black on white. I always understood that it goes expressly against free and community radio stations. The penalties included up to jail or fines of millions of pesetas. They were condemned to this type of project”, he explains in conversation with Public the author of the book.

The law also opened the competition for broadcasters to get their licenses. On the one hand, here the division of the movement takes place due to the different strategies that the stations seek. There are some historic ones like Onda Verde La Cadena del WC that decide to request the license alone. The first one was promoted by Esteban Ibarra, who seems to have been promised a license from the socialist ranks that did not arrive. “The hopes of many people were played with,” says Pérez.

In Madrid the movement broke up in other two big blocks. On the one hand, a handful of radios were grouped around the Federation of Free Radios of the Community of Madrid (FERALICOMA). Radio stations such as Radio Ritmo, Onda Latina, Radio Cero, Radio Carcoma or Radio Jabato, among others, were present here. The other block that requested a license was that of the Association of Cultural Associations of the Community of Madrid (Radio Vallekas, Onda Sur, Radio Morata, Radio Fuga or Onda Merlín, among others).

Only one license was finally granted in Madrid. Another was in Valencia, on Radio Klara. But the one in Madrid had a trap. The government inexplicably grants it in the town of Chinchón, a place where there was no radio station project. “It is interesting because they play that they have given the license but at a point where it is useless. It was unsustainable,” says Pérez in this regard.

“It’s a lHey, what is done with your back to the free radios?“, affirms Pérez. The author highlights a quote, included in his book, from a PSOE deputy, Ana Balletbó, in the Congressional Commission where the law was debated and which exemplifies who the project was clearly negotiated with. “We have tried to have contact with the businessmen who make a living from this and we have also tried to incorporate that voice that is the most expert voice because it is the people who are affected”.

For the author, this law supposes “another example of the use of the public to satisfy private interests”. Added to all this were subsequent reports in the media that spoke of the so-called “Operation Rainbow” promoted by the Government through which the concessions would have been monopolized in a few hands.

That was a hard blow. Some radios were forced to close. But others reinvented themselves and followed their path however they could. Several of those pioneers still exist today: Radio Vallekas, Onda Merlín, Radio Enlace, Radio Fuga or Radio Morata, among others.

The legal fight for decades until today

The free radio movement’s battle for recognition has continued for decades. The members of the stations have not given up their efforts. A symbolic victory was achieved in 2010, under the presidency of Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero. Its General Law of Audiovisual Communication recognized them as valid subjects. A historic request from these media.

But since then not a single license has been given to community media. The main active associations denounced that the Government of Mariano Rajoy they refused to apply the law and they even point out that they wanted to eliminate the audiovisual category included in the 2010 law that recognized them directly. Even Spain received a touch from the UN for not granting licenses.

To this day, in the new audiovisual law that came into force last July, community radios are given the option to request a license. The term ends on January 8. The requirements for radios to access are reflected in the law itself: Proof of uninterrupted operation for the last 5 years. Between 2017 and 2022; Not having caused interference problems and formally declaring that they intend to continue with the broadcasts. The outcome is uncertain for a movement that has not stopped demanding what is due to them.

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