Mérida, June 17th 2009 (Venezuelanalysis.com) — The Venezuelan government has opened an investigation into whether the private, opposition-aligned television channel, Globovision, has incited crimes including threats to assassinate President Hugo Chávez. If convicted, the channel could potentially lose its broadcasting license.
The National Telecommunications Commission (CONATEL) visited Globovision's headquarters in Caracas on Tuesday to notify the directors of an investigation of possible infractions of Article 171, Section 6 of the Telecommunications Law, according to CONATEL legal consultant Roselyn Daher.
Article 171 lists the causes for which a broadcasting concession may be revoked, one of which is if the license holder "uses or permits the use of the telecommunications services for which it is authorized, as means to cooperate with the commission of crimes."
"If it is determined that Globovision has cooperated or permitted the realization of criminal activities or punishable acts, then CONATEL will act in conformity with the law, and it could revoke the concession," Daher said in an interview on the state television channel VTV on Tuesday.
The programs that are primarily under investigation are Globovision's daily news and the political talk show Aló Ciudadano (Hello Citizen), which is avidly opposed to the Chávez government.
In October 2008, Aló Ciudadano host Rafael Poleo directed a comment to Chávez, saying, "Be careful, Hugo. Don't end up like your counterpart [Italian Fascist Dictator] Benito Mussolini, hung upside down," referring to the assassination of Mussolini by political opponents in 1945.
Ana Nuñez, a legal consultant for Globovision, said Poleo's comparison of Chávez and Mussolini is among the acts being investigated. Many people, especially government supporters, interpreted the comments as a threat or incitement of assassination. Nuñez said it is unclear whether it is an individual responsible for the incident, or the institution of Globovision.
In response to CONATEL's notification about the opening of an investigation, Globovision Director Alberto Ravell said there is "no legal basis" for revoking the station's broadcasting license.
Meanwhile, due to an adjustment in the value of Venezuela's tax units, the fine that CONATEL imposed on Globovision on June 5th has increased from $3 million to $4.1 million. CONATEL had originally fined Globovision 30,000 tax units ($767,440) for illegal broadcasting on unauthorized microwaves plus 5 million bolivars ($2.3 million) in unpaid taxes from the years 2002-2003.
This week, opposition activists took to the streets in several Venezuelan cities to collect donations to help Globovision, one of Venezuela's largest and wealthiest private television stations, pay the fine and its unpaid taxes. Plastic buckets in hand, the activists solicited donations on buses, street corners, and university campuses.
"Globovision represents freedom of expression," said the mayor of Mérida, Lester Rodríguez, who joined the effort to collect donations on Tuesday. "Meridans are going to fight for democracy and freedom of expression."
The mayor of Metropolitan Caracas, Antonio Ledezma, also joined the donation drive, and said the national government is trying to "criminalize dissent."
Venezuela's top anti-corruption watchdog, Comptroller General Clodosbaldo Russián, announced on Tuesday that the investigation and sanctions of Globovision have been in strict accordance with the law. "In Venezuela there are no untouchables… whether it's a television channel or a person, the implicated or investigated party should hold tight to the rules of the game and if they must pay a fine, they should pay it."
Globovision was among several private television stations that promoted the two-day coup d'etat and management-led oil industry shutdown aimed at ousting President Chávez in 2002 and 2003 by supplanting real events during the coup with false anti-government information, and by broadcasting calls to join in the protests in support of the shutdown.