Mérida, July 21st 2010 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – The Venezuelan government will place a representative on the Board of Directors of Globovisión, a major opposition-aligned television news station, President Hugo Chavez announced on Tuesday. The move is the result of a recent bank intervention through which the state acquired a 25.8% share in the station, according to the president.
On June 14th, the Superintendent of Banks took custody of the nation’s third largest bank, Banco Federal, after the bank failed to maintain minimum reserve levels and to meet legal quotas for productive sector investments. Shortly after the intervention, the bank’s president, Nelson Mezerhane, violated a travel prohibition and fled the country.
Mezerhane is the sole shareholder in the company Sindicato Avila, which holds a 20% stake in Globovisión. He is also the owner of a separate company that holds a 5.8% share of the station. Both of Mezerhane’s companies were taken over as part of the Banco Federal intervention. Chavez said this gives the state a minority share in Globovisión and the right to a seat on the Board of Directors.
“Mezerhane has a company that has been intervened in, that has 20% of the shares of Globovisión and another company that has 5.8%… Now in the next few days the Intervention Committee at the Banco Federal is obligated… to designate a representative on the Board of Directors of Globovisión because now we have 25.8% of shares,” said Chavez during an event in Caracas.
Chavez recommended either Mario Silva or Alberto Nolia, both of whom are hosts of well-known political talk shows on the state television station, for the post.
The state may also acquire the 20% share of Globovisión that was owned by Luis Nuñez, the co-founder of Globovisión and former editor of the national daily El Universal who passed away in April 2007, since the law stipulates that media concessions are not inheritable property, Chavez said.
Globovisión responded in a statement explaining that new board members must be approved by 55% or more of the company’s share holders in an assembly vote. Considering this, even if the government ends up with 45.8% of the shares by acquiring Mr. Nuñez’s share, it still will not have a guaranteed spot on the Board of Directors.
“Beyond the persons who may be sitting on the Board of Directors, the editorial line of Globovisión does not have a percentage of shares,” Globovisión’s statement added.
Globovisión, a privately-owned station that broadcasts on a public concession, emits news and political commentary that has in the past defended the interests of the business class, including fierce criticism of Chavez’s socialist policies, calls to overthrow the government, and insinuated threats to assassinate the president.
The station also aided the botched attempt to overthrow the democratically-elected president in April 2002 by manipulating images in order to justify the military coup on false pretenses. Mezerhane, a close political ally of Globovisión’s directorate, is a suspect in the 2004 car bomb murder of Danilo Anderson, a national investigator who was building a case against opposition leaders suspected of involvement in the April 2002 coup.
In recent years, Globovisión has clashed with the government’s efforts to make the privately owned media more accountable and to reduce the concentration of media ownership. Globovisión and its opposition political allies call the government’s efforts an attack on free speech.
The government’s media policy is based on the Law on Social Responsibility in Radio and Television, which establishes standards and ratings for programs, prohibits inflammatory content, places limits on commercial advertising, and requires stations to broadcast important government announcements. Also, the National Telecommunications Commission has increased its financial and logistical support to small-scale and community-based media, mainly local radio stations and independent producers.
The government opened a national investigation of Globovisión in June 2009 for the station’s alleged violations of the media law and abuse of its public broadcasting concession. This year, state authorities issued an arrest warrant for Globovisión’s owner, Guillermo Zuloaga, and his son on charges of usury and illegal hoarding of luxury vehicles in connection with their car dealership. Zuloaga later fled to the United States.
Opposition-aligned media outlets continue to dominate the majority of the Venezuelan media spectrum despite the state’s expansion of its media presence. Many of these receive U.S. government funding and say the Chavez government is applying the law selectively as a means to persecute political opponents.
International agencies including the Inter-American Human Rights Commission of the Organization of American States and the U.S.-based non-government organization Human Rights Watch have followed the opposition’s lead and accused the Venezuelan government of violating freedom of speech.