Thu, Aug 02, 2007 - Page 7 News List

Opposition RCTV faces Chavez closure deadline

AP , CARACAS

An opposition-aligned television channel yesterday faced a deadline to agree to carry speeches by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez or be yanked from the cable lineup.

The nation's telecom watchdog has given Radio Caracas Television, or RCTV, until midnight yesterday to register as a national producer, under which it would be required to interrupt its programming at the government's request to transmit Chavez's speeches. RCTV insists it is operating as an international channel and therefore is not bound by such rules.

The channel has been operating as a paid subscription channel on cable and satellite TV since July 16, after Chavez refused to renew its broadcasting license and turned its signal over to a public-service network.

"We think we could hold talks to analyze the problem," Mario Seijas, president of the Venezuelan Chamber of Subscription Television, said by telephone.

He said the issue could affect other cable channels and that the chamber hoped to clarify the government's requirements.

The administration has not responded to the chamber's request for a deadline extension, Seijas said.

The new cable channel RCTV International said in a statement on Monday that it disagreed with the requirement to register as a "national audiovisual producer" and intends to be an "international channel."

It asked the telecommunications commission to clarify its rules, saying it appears to be enforcing them differently now that RCTV has begun transmitting programming by cable.

A spokesman for the channel could not be immediately reached for comment on Tuesday.

Joel Simon, executive director of the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, condemned the government's demands of RCTV, saying it appeared to be punishing dissent.

"This seems to be yet another attempt by the Venezuelan government to shut down a critical media outlet," Simon said in a statement. "Forcing the station to transmit President Chavez's speeches is a sign of the government's attempt to control the flow of information."

Chavez forced RCTV off the air on May 27, accusing the channel of supporting a 2002 coup that briefly removed him from power and repeatedly violating broadcast laws.

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