Venezuela cracks down on TV station questioning Chávez move

Venezuelan officials ordered opposition news channel Globovision to stop airing videos questioning the constitutionality of postponing Hugo Chávez's inauguration. This is the eighth complaint against the news station.

Ramon Espinosa/AP
A man holding a framed image of Venezuela's President Hugo Chávez and other parishioner file out of the Cathedral after attending a Mass to pray for the recovery of Chávez, in Havana, Cuba, Saturday.

 David Smilde is the moderator of WOLA's blog: Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights. The views expressed are the author's own.

After National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello publicly complained about a series of 90 second television spots produced and aired by [opposition] news channel Globovisión, the government media controlling agency Consejo Nacional de Telecomunicaciones (CONATEL) ordered Globovisión to stop airing them. It also announced it was opening a new administrative procedure (the eighth opened by the agency against Globovision), that could result in a fine of up to 10 percent of the channel’s gross earnings during the past fiscal year.

According to CONATEL General Director Pedro Maldonado, the timing of the opening of administrative procedure and Cabello’s complaint was a mere coincidence, since CONATEL had already been monitoring the spots during the months of December and January. CONATEL had concluded that the channel was violating article 27 of the Social Responsibility Law which prohibits information that “incites or promotes intolerance for religious or political reasons, for gender differences, racism or xenophobia…generates anguish in the population…fails to recognize legitimately constituted authorities… or promotes the violation of the legal order.” 

The four spots (watch them here) present the full text of article 231 of the Constitution together with images of Nicolas Maduro, Cilia Flores, and President Hugo Chávez arguing that the Constitution should be respected at all costs. Article 231 establishes that the elected President will take possession of his post on Jan. 10 of the first year of his presidential period with a public oath to the National Assembly, or if that is not possible, to the Supreme Judicial Tribunal (TSJ). The TSJ recently interpreted this article saying it was not applicable in the current situation since President Chávez was not an elected but a reelected president, meaning there was a continuity of administration. 

The day after CONATEL's announcment, the Communication and Information Ministry (MINCI), sent Globovisión a new clip related to Article 231 with orders to air it. Globovisión refused to do so arguing that CONATEL had ordered them not to transmit the previous clip “or any clip of similar content.” According to Globovisión’s description of the MINCI clip, Article 231 appears superimposed over images of a government sympathizer declaring that she voted for Chávez and wants him to finish his term.

On Thursday, Jan. 10 the Alianza por la Libertad de Expresión emited a press release rejecting CONATEL’s actions saying “International human rights instruments and the National Constitution establish the right to free and plural expression and information, which includes the freedom to search for, receive, and spread information and ideas of all kinds.” They called on CONATEL to drop its case. International non-governmental organizations Human Rights Watch and Reporters without Borders also criticized CONATEL’s actions.

–  David Smilde is the moderator of WOLA's blog: Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights. 

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