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Venezuela - World Report 2009

113 out of 173 in the latest worldwide index

-  Area: 912,050 sq. km.
-  Population: 27,000,000
-  Language: Spanish
-  Head of state: Hugo Chavez Frias, since February 1999

After years of “media war”, Hugo Chavez and his government took control of almost the entire broadcast sector. One journalist escaped a murder attempt and a second journalist was killed within a three-day period in January 2009.

The broadcast landscape was shattered by the years of “media war” that followed the 11 April 2002 coup that briefly removed Hugo Chavez from power. Among the four television channels that backed the coup, the oldest and most popular, Radio Caracas Television (RCTV), had to give up its terrestrial frequency to the public cultural channel Televisora venezolana social (Teves), on 27 May 2007, but was able to resume broadcasts on cable. Televen and Venevision hung on to their frequencies by adjusting their editorial line. Globovision alone kept up its criticism of the government. Hugo Chavez himself saw to it that the small news channel broadcasting only to Caracas and the surrounding area was sued for “breaking electoral law” the day after regional elections on 23 November 2008. Since it disclosed the salary of a deputy with the government-allied Venezuelan communist party on 26 March 2009, one of its journalists, Beatriz Adrian, has faced proceedings for hacking into the Parliament’s computer system. In the meantime, its headquarters has come under attack several times by radical pro-Chavez militants, whom the president ended up condemning. Globovision is the sole terrestrial exception to state control. It is under this heading subjected to the regime of the “cadenas” (marathon speeches), which under Article 10 of the Law on social responsibility in radio and television (Resorte law), adopted in November 2004, theoretically allows the government, in practice the head of state, to simultaneously requisition all terrestrial media for live and unlimited speeches. Media, whether public or private, are forced under threat of a fine, or even an “official suspension” to link up to the frequency of state-run Venezolana de Television (VTV). The president also uses this same channel to present his own Sunday programme “Alo Presidente”. The “cadenas” are sometimes devoted to commemorations, more often to propaganda and almost always to diatribes against the enemies of the Bolivarian revolution. Hugo Chavez made 1,816 of these speeches between the date of his first mandate on 2 February 1999 and 19 December 2008, talking for a total of 1,179 hours, equal to 49 full days. The campaign for the referendum allowing unlimited presidential terms that was easily won by Hugo Chavez on 15 February 2009 further deepened media polarisation. Against a background of heightened insecurity, the start of the year was marked by an upsurge in attacks on journalists regardless of political leanings. In the space of three days in January 2009, Rafael Finol, of the pro-government daily El Regional, survived a murder attempt while another carried out in the same way, killed opposition figure Orel Sambrano, editor of the political weekly ABC, vice-president on privately owned Radio America 890 AM, and editorialist on the regional daily Notitarde. Sambrano had exposed gang activities of a family clan in the state of Carabobo, central Venezuela. The investigation led to the arrest of a suspect, a former police officer.

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