Friday afternoon representatives of Venezuela’s National Telecommunications Commission (Conatel) inspected the transmission equipment of the 24-hour news station Globovision and confirmed that it was using certain microwave frequencies for live transmissions which it did not have a permit to use. Conatel officials then confiscated some of Globovision’s equipment as a punitive measure for having violated Venezuelan law and Conatel regulations, and to prevent further violations.
Globovision and all of the other privately owned broadcast media cried foul and speculated that the confiscation was meant to silence opposition voices, in light of the upcoming recall referendum petition drive. Federico Ravell, Globovision’s general director, said, “The government is beginning to shut us down.” Globovision released a communiqué, saying that Conatel did not follow proper procedure for taking a measure such as this.
The microwave transmission equipment is used to cover live broadcasts away from the central studios. The confiscation of the equipment does not impair regular studio broadcasts, it is expected to diminish Globovision’s ability for live coverage of some events outside the studio. Ravell said that “We have had offers from the other networks to give us the help we need.”
The Minister of Communication and Information and former director of Conatel, Jesse Chacon, said that Globovision was making illegal use of microwave frequencies, which Conatel regulates. “If they [Globovision] had applied to Conatel for permission for the proper use of the microwave frequencies, then this problem would not have happened,” said Chacon. He also added that if Globovision had shown the officials a Conatel document that expressly allows Globovision to use the frequencies they have been using, no equipment would have been confiscated. Chacon reaffirmed that all of the measures Conatel took are in strict compliance with the telecommunications law.
According to Chacon, in 2001 a census of transmission frequencies uncovered the illegal use of frequencies by several stations. Globovision knows since then that they had to request a permit if the wanted to continue using the frequencies that prompted yesterday’s measures.
General Secretary of the Organization of American States, Cesar Gaviria issued a statement saying, “We hope this situation can be cleared up as quickly as possible, so that these acts will in no way be interpreted as an obstruction or diminishment of the freedom of expression. We trust that in the execution of these proceedings the law and the principle of freedom of expression will be respected…”
The U.S. embassy released a statement saying that, “Embassy officials have been in touch with Venezuelan authorities to determine the purpose and legal base for this action.” That statement added, “The United States reaffirms that freedom of the press is an essential element of democracy would consider unacceptable any attempt to restrict or silence a medium of communication by a part of the government, as an expression of opposition to its politics.”
The quick response of OAS and American officials in defense of the anti-government station, sharply contrasts with the silence that followed the closing of popular community TV station Catia TVe by opposition Grand Caracas Mayor Alfredo Peña, a few months ago.
Bomb explodes outside Conatel's headquarters
In the course of yesterday, protestors supporting Globovision gathered at the Conatel headquarters and threw rocks and numerous paint bombs at the building.
Today at around 1:00 A.M., a bomb exploded at Conatel’s headquarters located in the wealthy neighborhood of Las Mercedes in eastern Caracas. No deaths or injuries were reported, but the main door of the building was destroyed by the blast.
Minister Jesse Chacon lamented the attacks, and said that it was a direct consequence of Globovision's disinformation campaign. The station's claim that it was "being shut down by a dictatorial government", was echoed by other media outlets opposed to the government. Several opposition political leaders made calls to "take the streets to defend freedom of expression."
"The use of means of communication to make calls for violence, leaves nothing good," said Chacon.
The attack on this government institution comes only weeks after a bomb attack on the Honor Guard military barracks outside the Presidential Palace in downtown Caracas.