Reporters Without Borders today called for international condemnation of President Hugo Chávez’s decision not to renew the licence of Venezuela’s oldest TV station, Radio Caracas Television (RCTV), which was finally forced to stop broadcasting at midnight last night.
“The closure of RCTV, which was founded in 1953, is a serious violation of freedom of expression and a major setback to democracy and pluralism,” the press freedom organisation said. “President Chávez has silenced Venezuela’s most popular TV station and the only national station to criticise him, and he has violated all legal norms by seizing RCTV’s broadcast equipment for the new public TV station that is replacing it.”
Reporters Without Borders continued: “The grounds given for not renewing RCTV’s licence, including its support, along with other media, for the April 2002 coup attempt, are just pretexts. Other privately-owned TV stations that supported the coup attempt have not suffered the same fate because they subsequently adopted a subservient attitude towards the regime.”
Directly or indirectly, President Chávez now controls almost all the broadcast media. RCTV’s closures is not, as he would have people believe, a mere administrative measure. It is a political move designed to reinforce his hegemony over the news media.
This attack on media pluralism is just the latest in a long series of press freedom violations in Venezuela that have included attacks on hundreds of journalists in recent years, a “media social responsibility” law that restricts their programming, criminal code amendments increasing the penalties for press offences, publication of a list of journalists who allegedly “sold out to US interests,” and verbal threats by Chávez against foreign journalists.
“We appeal to the international community to actively condemn this use of force and to defend what remains of the independent media in Venezuela,” Reporters Without Borders added.
The threat to RCTV surfaced just eight days after Chávez’s reelection as president, when communication and information minister William Lara announced on 11 December 2006 that the renewal of its licence would be put to a referendum. President Chávez’s decision to terminate its licence without bothering with a referendum was announced 17 days later.
The Venezuelan supreme court put an end to all further discussion when it ruled on 18 May that the appeal presented by RCTV on 9 February was “inadmissible.”