Venezuela’s RCTV Reappears on Cable and Satellite

Private television channel RCTV will be back on Venezuelan TV screens as of next Monday, via cable and satellite, disproving claims that it was shutdown by the government. Meanwhile, private station Venevision announced it would maintain a "balanced" position in Venezuelan politics.

Mérida, July 12, 2007 (— Private television channel RCTV will be back on Venezuelan TV screens as of next Monday, via cable and satellite, RCTV General Director Marcel Granier announced at a press conference yesterday.

Off the air since May 27th when its open-air broadcast license expired and was not renewed by the government of President Hugo Chavez, RCTV will begin broadcasting again through cable and satellite with the same critical line against the Chavez government.

The Venezuela government decided not to renew RCTV open-air broadcast license because of the station’s past support for efforts to overthrow the government and for its continuous violations of the country’s broadcast and tax regulations.

National protests led by RCTV executives and anti-government politicians, describing the measure as “the closing of RCTV” and claiming it was a violation of freedom of speech, were widely covered by international media affecting the Venezuelan government’s image overseas and causing negative reactions from foreign politicians.

Venezuela’s Communications Minister Jesse Chacon said RCTV’s return proves that the government’s decision not to renew the station’s license, did not violate their freedom of speech rights.

"Its cable broadcast derails the scaffolding built in order to mobilize people in Venezuela claiming there is no freedom of expression in this country. They could have started their cable broadcast on May 28th as there is no additional investment to do so," Chacon said.

During their period off the air, RCTV remaind open and taping many of their shows, including their lucrative for-export sopa operas.

RCTV will be viewable in 95% of the subscription television market starting Monday at 6:00 a.m., after being off the air for about a month and a half. The channel went off the national airwaves on May 27th, when the Chavez government denied it a renewal of its broadcast license that expired that day. The broadcast license, however, only applies to the national radio-electric spectrum, not subscription television such as cable and satellite.

The channel will be viewable through channel 103 on DirecTV, channel 13 on Intercable, Net Uno and Planet Cable (cable providers), which represent almost all of the national market for subscription television, and about 50 percent of the total population in Venezuela.

"We must return in the first place for our workers in order to try to keep the highest amount of talent possible," said Granier yesterday to justify the decision to broadcast by cable and satellite. "We confirm our commitment to Venezuela, with our audience, and with our workers. We won’t cut back our efforts to recover the open airwaves across all national territory," he said.

Granier pledged to maintain a critical line against the government, and to continue fighting for "freedom of expression" and the return of the channel to the open airwaves. According to Granier, the channel’s programming will be basically the same as before May 27th, which included several programs strongly opposed to the Chavez government such as a well-known political talk show in the morning called La Entrevista and its daily news program El Observador.

But the channel will be different in one important respect. RCTV will officially no longer be a national channel, but rather will be administrated from RCTV International, located in Miami, Florida. Although the signal will still be broadcast from within Venezuela, the company in charge of the administration of the new channel will be RCTV International Corp in Miami. According to the legal representative of the company, Oswaldo Quintana, the new channel will have the same legal conditions as any other cable channel.

"We are going to be like Warner Channel, Sony Entertainment Television, CNN, Telesur…" said Quintana, emphasizing that under these legal conditions the new channel will not be interrupted by the national public broadcasts that the Chavez government frequently performs. Also, the broadcast may eventually be transmitted to other countries in the region such as Colombia, Trinidad and Tobago, and the countries of Central America.

Media Mogul Cisneros Breaks Silence

Gustavo Cisneros, the owner of the Venezuelan private TV channel Venevisión spoke yesterday in a nationally televised address for the first time in several years. Cisneros made the statement in order to respond to the criticisms his channel has received from "both sides" of the political spectrum in Venezuela. Venevisión did not take a definite position regarding the case of RCTV in May and has therefore been the target of criticism from sectors of the opposition.

"Venevision has tried to stay in the democratic center and for that reason suffers attacks, slander, and other cheap shots from both sides and that is why I am speaking to you today," said Cisneros last night in a brief talk transmitted on Venevisión.

Cisneros stated that in Venezuela there exists a "conflict" due to the major divisions between the government and the opposition, and he said that the nation is suffering the consequences of that situation. However, due to that situation Cisneros said he had come to the conclusion that the television media in Venezuela should not have a political bias.

"After the events of [the] April 2002 [coup attempt] and of the 2004 recall referendum, I became even more convinced that a television channel cannot, and must not take the position of a protagonist in a political conflict, no matter how much it favors or opposes the government," explained Cisneros. He went on to say that the television media "cannot and must not become biased in the national conflict, and, in fact, should not try to replace the political parties if they don’t want to worsen the conflict. That is what has happened in Venezuela."

Cisneros said that it "isn’t easy" to maintain a balanced position when "some people from the government want channels that only report positive news about the government," and "some groups from the opposition want television channels that only report negative news against the government." But he assured that Venevisión "is open to all the existing voices in the country, every voice."

Cisneros was accused by opposition groups of having worked out an agreement with Chavez in 2004 to change Venevisión’s tone towards the government. Both Chavez and Cisneros have denied those charges.