Wed, Apr 15, 2009 - Page 7 News List

Chavez calls for media sanctions

CRACKDOWN ON DISSENT? A legal consultant for the only Venezuelan TV network still critical of the country’s president said Chavez was ‘criminalizing’ free speech

AP , CARACAS

A woman attends a pro-Chavez celebration with a dog dressed in a shirt showing Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in Caracas, Venezuela, on Monday.

PHOTO: EPA

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez urged authorities on Monday to impose sanctions on Venezuelan TV networks that allegedly backed a military rebellion that briefly ousted him seven years ago.

Chavez has long accused Venezuela’s major TV channels — Venevision, Globovision, RCTV and Televen — of supporting the short-lived 2002 coup by broadcasting cartoons and movies instead of street protests that aided his return to power two days after the military uprising.

The socialist leader accused privately owned TV channels of continuing to try to “stir up disorder.”

“Nobody has touched them,” Chavez said of the TV networks during a speech to supporters in downtown Caracas. “Sanctions must be imposed.”

POWER OF SUGGESTION

Chavez didn’t elaborate, but similar comments in the past have prompted the government’s telecommunications watchdog, Conatel, to slap fines on Globovision.

Ana Cristina Nunez, a legal consultant for Globovision, said Chavez sought a crackdown on dissent.

“The president is totally criminalizing the free exercise of freedom of expression,” Nunez said.

Venevision and Televen curbed criticism of Chavez following the coup. RCTV moved to cable in 2007 after Chavez refused to renew the channel’s broadcast license, leaving Globovision as the only major network that remains critical of the government.

Chavez also urged prosecutors to bring “the intellectual authors” responsible for the coup to trial.

Dissident military officers rose up against Chavez on April 11, 2002, after 19 people were killed in Caracas during street demonstrations for and against Chavez. Government critics blame the slayings on National Guard troops and Chavez backers who were filmed shooting from a bridge, but the president’s supporters say the police were responsible.

LIVING IN EXILE

None of the dissident military officers who ousted Chavez, many of whom are living in exile, have gone to trial. Former business leader Pedro Carmona, who served as interim president before loyalists in the military returned Chavez to power, was granted political asylum in Colombia.

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