Venezuela Remembers Non-Renewal of RCTV and Creation of TVES

This week marked the anniversary of the controversial non-renewal of the public broadcasting license of Radio Caracas Televisión (RCTV) and its on-air replacement with the state channel Venezuelan Social Television (TVES). Opposition students used the occasion for a protest.

Mérida, May 31, 2008 (– This week marked the anniversary of the controversial non-renewal of the public broadcasting license of Radio Caracas Televisión (RCTV) and its on-air replacement with the state channel Venezuelan Social Television (TVES). The opposition student movement used the occasion for a protest to the National Assembly, while TVES celebrated its anniversary.

RCTV is a private Venezuelan television company that had broadcast on public airwaves for 53 years and has now moved to cable. RCTV was replaced by the state-funded Venezuelan Social Television (TVES), which has promoted independent and community-based producers during its rocky first year.

RCTV received a public broadcasting concession two decades ago which expired on May 27th, 2007. The administration of President Hugo Chávez did not renew the license because RCTV had participated in the April 2002 coup against Chávez by broadcasting false information and concealing key events during the coup, and because the company had violated the Law on Social Responsibility in Radio and Television hundreds of times, according to a regulatory body.

RCTV did not receive a new license because it made irresponsible use of “the property of the nation that is administered by the Venezuelan state,” according to Hindu Anderi, a journalist and coordinator of the Itinerant Forum of Popular Participation, which organized the first protests and petitions supporting the non-renewal of RCTV´s concession in December 2006.

In her widely-publicized column this week, Anderi wrote, “one year has passed since the People defeated one of the most important economic groups in our country,” and this represents a “conquest by the popular struggle.”

RCTV director Marcel Granier said this week that the non-renewal was an “arbitrary closure” and part of President Chávez’s “pathetic totalitarian project,” which aims to silence opposing voices. Last year was “a year of the total absence of justice,” Granier railed.

Granier complained that RCTV was forced to move to cable, which at least 42% of the population is not capable of purchasing, according to polls.

“Freedom of expression does not exist when citizens cannot protest and make their protests public knowledge,” Granier declared.

Wednesday, several thousand students from Venezuela´s public and private universities marched to the National Assembly (AN) to turn in a document in which they expressed opposition to non-renewal of RCTV’s license and claimed there is a lack of freedom of expression in Venezuela. Their document was received by the first Vice President of the AN, and their message was amply recorded and transmitted by the national and international media.

RCTV ran a series of special programs this week and organized a pop concert to commemorate the anniversary of the expiration of its license. Program director Wladimir Giménez commented that the programming “is a way of demonstrating to Venezuela that we are still RCTV, that we continue working”.

Many RCTV officials expressed optimism that the company would someday recuperate its public broadcasting concession.

The former governor of Miranda state, Enrique Mendoza, said he was “convinced” that “sooner rather than later” RCTV would return to the airwaves because “the political price that the President of the Republic has had to pay for taking RCTV off the air has been very high,” and TVES has garnered a far smaller audience than the private company had commanded.

Echoing this sentiment, Granier commented, “They can rob a channel,” but “they will never be able to substitute the dedication, the discipline, and the service developed in 53 years of experience.”

In the past year, Venezuela’s Supreme Tribunal of Justice (TSJ) has decided against two petitions to restore RCTV’s concession. In one of those decisions, the TSJ ruled that “the amount of audience of a channel or its character of public service is not tantamount to a violation of the right to freedom of thought and expression and to receive free and plural information.”

A small group of people also marched to celebrate the non-renewal of RCTV’s license, claiming that RCTV was exclusive of the lower classes and racist, and was filled with violence and commercial advertising.

Venezuela’s Vice-Minister of Communications and Information, Freddy Fernández, said RCTV and other private media have “acted far from the journalist ethic and as an instrument for generating terror among the population.”

TVES Promotes National Independent Producers (PNI)

According to Minister Fernández, TVES represents the seeds of a new type of responsible television that Venezuela is planting. “Although TVES is taking the first steps, I believe that it will exhibit a model experience for the rest of the continent within a few years,” he said.

TVES has done well in promoting National Independent Producers (PNI), Fernández explained, and “journalists are not only those of us who graduated from the university, there are tens of thousands of journalists who exercise the alternative and communitarian media.”

The president of TVES, Lil Rodríguez Serrano, said in an interview this week that TVES is a “novel and unfinished experiment in the democratization of the radio-electric spectrum” that examines the identity of “Venezuelanness” and the cultural diversity and creativity of her country.

TVES, a foundation ascribed to the Ministry of Communications and Information, strives to make viewers “unlearn to watch television and re-learn how to learn with us,” she said.

Rodríguez was chosen by a commission made up of the ministers of culture, education, higher education, communications, and science and technology. She is a journalist who writes a weekly column for the country’s largest newspaper, Últimas Noticias. She used to work for the Caracas-based Latin American news network Telesur and is a long-time supporter of Venezuela’s Cultural Diversity Center.

Rodríguez agreed with many criticisms of TVES`s initial programming, which included National Geographic re-runs from the 1970s, and she said the channel is a car that is being repaired while racing down the road.

The initial grant from the government was 24 million bolivars ($11.2 million), three quarters of which was paid out to National Independent Producers (PNI) in the first week of TVES’s existence, according to Rodríguez.

TVES currently broadcasts 229 programs by 78 PNIs. “We are in love with the PNI, we are growing together with the PNI… we have learned from them and they from us, together, embracing, growing at the same time,” Rodríguez explained. Among these is a program produced entirely by people with disabilities, and the first ever soap opera or “telenovela” in which the protagonist is black.

In addition, TVES broadcasts international sports events and concerts, and is the only television company that complies with the Law on Responsibility in Radio and Television by having on its board of directors, consumer representatives and PNI representatives who were elected by their respective worker unions and organizations, according to Rodríguez.

TVES has been criticized by pro-Chávez groups for not broadcasting enough supportive coverage of President Chávez`s political activities. When asked about this, Rodríguez replied that President Chávez had personally asked her not to emphasize him in the channel’s programming, and that other state media would take care of publicizing the president’s activities.