Drums roll, the music swells, and the camera zooms in on a man seated behind a desk. His face is sombre for there are grim tidings to report.
Venezuela is in crisis. Inflation is soaring. There are acute shortages of milk, eggs and meat. Violent crime is taking more than 100 lives every week. The government is in chaos. Corruption is draining the country's oil wealth. These are the bulletins of Radio Caracas Television, the country's most influential private network. The theme is consistent: President Hugo Chavez is leading the country to ruin and if he is not stopped Venezuela will become a Cuba-style dictatorship.
OFF THE AIR
At midnight on Sunday, however, RCTV will be stopped. Its bleak bulletins silenced because the government is refusing to renew its broadcast license. Critics say an authoritarian hammer is crushing free speech and what is left of Venezuela's democracy. Supporters say the government is right to replace a channel notorious for lies, manipulation and anti-Chavez propaganda.
Tens of thousands of people marched in two rival rallies at Caracas last week, one mourning the decision, the other celebrating. More are expected this week and the volume of international protest — and praise — is set to swell.
None of it will alter the decision, Chavez recently said.
"It's over," he said.
His opponents cannot save RCTV, he added.
"Say what they say, do what they do, howl where they want, the license will not be renewed," he said.
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