Reporters Without Borders today deplored the Venezuelan government’s "improper use" of the law on requisitioning the media and urged that those who had disobeyed the order to put out only official material not be punished.
"There is no justification at all for interrupting TV and radio broadcasts about 30 times in the space of two days, despite the government’s legal right to oblige its voice to be heard in exceptional circumstances," RSF secretary-general Robert Ménard said in a letter to Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez. "Such action is not only improper but in this case also violated the telecommunications law which formally restricts it to material from the president, vice-president and government ministers." Ménard asked the president to ensure such improper action was not repeated.
At the time of a 9-10 April general strike, the government used the telecommunications law to force state-licensed TV and radio stations about 30 times on 8 and 9 April to put out pro-government material. Vice-President Diosdado Cabello said on 8 April this was "to defend the right of Venezuelans to truthful information" and warned that media not complying "would feel the consequences."
During the interruptions in broadcasts, Cabello, cabinet ministers, political, trade union and business figures, as well as journalists from the government TV station, were heard on the air. The office of the Organisation of American States Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression said the broadcasts lasted between 15 and 20 minutes. To get round the situation, the TV stations decided to 9 April to broadcast their own news at the same time by dividing the screen in two. Observers remarked that at no time during this period did the state-controlled TV station give a voice to the opposition or the organisers of the strike.
The arrangement for requisitioning broadcasting time is laid down in Article 192 of the telecommunications law, which allows the president to order TV and radio stations to broadcast free of charge official speeches or announcements, though only those by the president, vice-president or cabinet ministers. Chávez has often used this facility since coming to power four years ago.