Mérida, April 24, 2007 (venezuelanalysis.com)— Thousands of people marched in Caracas on Saturday in support of the private television channel RCTV, whose broadcast license the Chavez government has refused to renew. Chávez affirmed on Sunday that he would not give in to national or international pressure to renew the license and would never change his decision.
Starting in the morning hours on Saturday, opposition protesters, political organizations, politicians, journalists, RCTV actors and workers marched through the center of Caracas with signs and Venezuelan flags. The marchers protested in support of "freedom of expression," and against what they call the "closing" of RCTV.
"No to the closing of RCTV," said the actor Gustavo Rodríguez to the concentration of marchers in front of the RCTV building.
The march went through the center of the city and ended at the headquarters of the RCTV station where several celebrities and RCTV officials spoke to the crowd from a stage. Opposition leaders see the government's refusal to renew the broadcast concession that ends on May 27th as a deliberate attempt to silence opposition to the government.
"Chavez is afraid of RCTV," said one young protester, "They can't close RCTV because it is a piece of Venezuelan history."
RCTV president Eladio Larez assured that more than 80% of the population rejects what he called the "closing of Radio Caracas Television." The General Manager of the station has said that the government decision would take jobs away from four thousand RCTV employees.
But RCTV vice-president Eduardo Sapene assured that the channel "would continue working after May 28th." Top officials of the television channel claim that the government decision to not renew the license is "illegal and unconstitutional," and have received the support of various international groups such as the Inter-American Press Association and from Reporters Without Borders.
The government, however, maintains that it is the government’s constitutional right to grant broadcast licenses. In this case they say they are not revoking the license, but rather refusing to renew RCTV's 20-year license to broadcast on the VHF spectrum. President Chávez commented on the decision on his TV show Aló President on Sunday.
"It's very clear," he said, "the broadcast license expired and the state, who is the owner, reserves the right to give it to another organization or to other sectors."
The Chávez government also accuses the channel of playing an important role in the 2002 coup attempt that temporarily overthrew the Chávez presidency. During the 48-hour coup in which Hugo Chávez was taken into custody of the high military command and imprisoned, RCTV and other private media manipulated video footage in order to blame street violence on Chávez supporters. The next day, when Chávez supporters took to the streets to demand the return of the president, the channel refused to show coverage of the events.
"They are false, they are coup leaders," said Sendy Salas as she took part in a parallel concentration against the RCTV march. Hundreds of Chávez supporters rallied in a nearby plaza to support the government decision. Salas accused the private media of ignoring and minimizing the impact of the social programs carried out by the government.
Government officials also accuse the channel of an ideological war against the government and warn that the current campaign of marches in support of RCTV could be a strategy to repeat what happened in 2002. The government warned against supposed plans of radical groups to provoke violence during the march and create a "climate of violence" in order to blame the government and destabilize the country, similar to the events of April 11th, 2002.
"To those who are conspiring," said Chávez, "Don't make a mistake, I'll say it again, you could regret it."
Communications Minister William Lara assured that there is freedom of expression in the country and that there would be a new public service channel on May 28th in the place of RCTV. The private channel, he assured, can, and probably will, continue broadcasting by cable.