Mon, Jan 25, 2010 - Page 7 News List

Venezuelan TV providers block Anti-Chavez station

HUGO OR YOU GO Opposition Radio Caracas Television was shut down less than a day after it didn’t show a speech by the president that new laws required operators to air

AP , CARACAS

Demonstrators take part in a march called by opposition parties against Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in downtown Caracas, Venezuela, on Saturday.

PHOTO: EPA

Venezuelan cable television providers stopped transmitting a channel critical of President Hugo Chavez yesterday after the government cited noncompliance with new regulations requiring the socialist leader’s speeches be televised on cable.

Radio Caracas Television (RCTV), an anti-Chavez channel that switched to cable and satellite television in 2007 after the government refused to renew its over-the-air license, disappeared from TV sets shortly after midnight.

RCTV was yanked from cable and satellite programming just hours after Diosdado Cabello, director of Venezuela’s state-run telecommunications agency, said several local channels carried by cable television had breached broadcasting laws and should be removed from the airwaves.

Cabello warned cable operations on Saturday evening that they could find themselves in jeopardy if they keep showing those channels.

“They must comply with the law, and they cannot have a single channel that violates Venezuelan laws as part of their programming,” he said.

Several channels have not shown Chavez’s televised speeches when he orders all media to air them — a requirement under new regulations approved last month by the telecommunications agency, Cabello said.

RCTV did not broadcast a speech by the president to his political supporters during a rally early on Saturday.

The station’s removal from cable and satellite television prompted a cacophony of protests in Caracas neighborhoods as Chavez opponents leaned out apartment windows to bang on pots and pans.

Others shouted epithets and drivers joined in, honking car horns.

“They want to silence RCTV’s voice,” said Miguel Angel Rodriguez, the channel’s most popular talk show host. “But they won’t be able to because RCTV is embedded in the hearts of all Venezuelans.”

The US Embassy in Caracas expressed concern about the decision.

“Access to information is a cornerstone of democracy and provides a foundation for global progress. By restricting yet again the Venezuelan people’s access to RCTV broadcasts, the Venezuelan government continues to erode this cornerstone,” embassy spokeswoman Robin Holzhauer said.

Venezuela’s telecommunications agency has said in the past week that under new rules, two dozen local cable channels including RCTV must carry government programming when officials deem the measure necessary, just like channels on the open airwaves already do.

Chavez often uses the measure to force all the country’s TV channels and radio stations to broadcast his speeches.

Cabello said on Saturday that other violations committed by cable channels include failing to warn viewers of sexual and violent content as well as broadcasting more than two hours of soap operas during the afternoon, which should be mostly dedicated to children programming.

He did not specify which TV channels have purportedly violated the law, but RCTV said it was the target. It accused the agency of pressuring cable providers to drop channels that are critical of the government.

The agency “doesn’t have any authority to give the cable service providers this order,” RCTV said in a statement. “The government is inappropriately pressuring them to make decisions beyond their responsibilities.”

In denying RCTV renewal of its over-the-air broadcast license, Chavez accused it of plotting against his government and supporting a failed 2002 coup.

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