Venezuelan Government Will Not Renew “Coup-Plotting” TV Station’s License

In a controversial decision, President Chavez announced last week that the broadcast license of the oppositional TV station RCTV, which expires in May of this year, will not be renewed. Government officials explained that according to Venezuelan law the renewal is a discretional decision of the government and is thus completely legal.

By Gregory Wilpert - Venezuelanalysis.com
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Note: An earlier version of this article erroneously stated that TV talkshow host Napoleon Bravo worked with RCTV during the 2002 coup. This is false. He worked with Venevisión. the erroneous paragraph has been removed.

Caracas, January 3, 2007 (venezuelanalysis.com)— In a controversial decision, President Chavez announced last week that the broadcast license of the oppositional TV station RCTV, which expires in May of this year, will not be renewed. Government officials explained that according to Venezuelan law the renewal is a discretional decision of the government and is thus completely legal.

Last week, during a military ceremony, President Hugo Chavez announced, “There will be no new concession for this coup-plotting channel, known as Radio Caracas Television [RCTV]!”

He went on to say, “The measure has already been prepared, so they might as well go ahead and turn off their equipment. No media will be tolerated that is at the service of coupism, against the people, against the nation, against the dignity of the Republic. Venezuela is to be respected!”

The TV channel RCTV has been one of the most consistent opponents of the Chavez government, along with the all-news channel Globovision. During the April 2002 coup attempt RCTV was one of the main protagonists in the organization and execution of the coup. It was the first to broadcast the false claim that Chavez supporters were shooting at opposition demonstrators, which then served as a justification for high level generals to declare their disobedience to the government, also on RCTV.

When the coup began to falter and thousands of demonstrators took to the streets in support of Chavez, RCTV refused to provide any news coverage of the developments and switched from 24-hour news coverage to the broadcasting of old cartoons and movies instead.

Other reasons Chavez and his supporters refer to RCTV as a “coup-plotting” channel are because it also supported the December 2002 shutdown of the oil industry that was designed to force Chavez from office. At the time RCTV (along with Globovision) gave free advertising time to the opposition, broadcasting these in lieu of commercial advertising, urging citizens to support the so-called general strike.

Also, during the August 2004 presidential recall referendum, RCTV refused to accept pro-Chavez advertisements.

Media groups, such as the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF), which supports freedom of the press from the perspective of media owners, have issued statements in opposition to the decision to not renew RCTV’s broadcast license. RSF said the move is a “serious attack on editorial pluralism.” The group asked the Chavez government “to reconsider its stance and guarantee an independent system of concessions and renewals of licenses.”

Similarly, the executive director of the Latin American press freedom group, Press and Society Institute, Ewald Scharfenberg was quoted in the New York Times as saying, “This decision can only be seen as a control strategy and an abuse of power.”

The vice-president of the International Association for Radio and Television (AIR), Nicolás Vega, said his group “roundly condemns” the decision. According to Vega, “During the government of President Chavez constant and systematic threats and attacks have been registered against the mass media and their workers.”

Also, the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Organization of American States, Ignacio Álvarez, declared that RCTV’s loss of its license would, “deprive Venezuelans of the possibility to access a mass medium with an editorial line that is critical of the government.” Álvarez’s statement calls on the Chavez government to “preserve the plurality of the mass media and offers its assistance in the matter.”

For Marcel Granier, the President of 1BC, which owns RCTV, the government is "running roughshod over the state of law" and that his channel's employees have the right to continue working "without following the dictates of the regime's propaganda ministry or the president," according to the AP.

According to Granier, his station’s license does not expire until 2012 because it was renewed for ten years in 2001. Communications Minister Willian Lara disputed this, though, saying that in 2001 the station merely resubmitted its registration documents in 2001, as part of the passage of a new communications law that was passed that year. The license, however, was originally given in May 1987 for 20 years and is thus set to expire in May 2007.

Lara reiterated yesterday that the decision to not renew RCTV’s license was “irreversible” and that RCTV’s ability to broadcast on VHF channel 2 would expire on May 28. Lara proposed three possibilities as to what could happen with the frequency. One would be that the workers of RCTV organize themselves into cooperatives and apply for a new license. Second, that the frequency is given to a semi-public, semi-private company, and, third, that it is given to the state, to launch an entertainment channel and that the current state channel 8 (known as VTV) becomes a 24-hour news channel.

Lara stated that he has heard that RCTV plans to continue its operations even after its license expires, as a producer of soap operas and music programs, via its production company Coral Pictures. Currently RCTV exports many programs and could, in theory, continue to do so indefinitely. Also, said Lara, the station is free to continue broadcasting via cable.

Responding to comments made on Monday by Venezuela’s Cardinal Urosa, who stated that the government should reconsider its decision about RCTV, Lara said that it represented a recognition of the legality of the decision. However, he discounted that the decision would lead to a lack of pluralism in Venezuela’s media landscape because “The increase in radio and television stations, of newspapers, of magazines, of websites, and of their diversity in political orientation is the most reliable guarantee that Venezuelans will continue to count on plural information in a dynamic of freedom of expression.”

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