Reporters Without Borders today called on the pro-opposition mayor of Caracas to allow Catia TV, one of the country’s many pro-government community radio and television stations, to resume broadcasting at once. Catia TV has been unable to broadcast since the premises housing its broadcast equipment were closed on the mayor’s orders on 10 July.
"We ask you to explain your reasons for closing the premises of Catia TV and at the same time we remind you that, whatever they are, they could not justify forcing this station off the air," Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard said in a letter to Caracas mayor Alfredo Peña. He urged the mayor to begin a dialogue with Catia TV "in order to find a way to respect press freedom."
Caracas city hall officials went to Lídice hospital, which houses Catia TV’s broadcast equipment, on 10 July together with the hospital’s director, Alexis Parra. In the presence of members of the metropolitan police, which is controlled by the city hall, they closed the station’s premises, forcing it to stop broadcasting.
Contradictory explanations have been given. An official letter handed to the TV station said its activities were "incompatible" with the hospital’s and hampered the medical staff’s work. It also claimed that it had been impossible to locate the station’s director in order to discuss the problem. Pedro Aristimuño, deputy director of health at the city hall, subsequently said the purpose was to protect the TV station’s equipment, claiming that it had been abandoned for the past year and that acts of theft were taking place in the hospital.
Catia TV’s director, Blanca Eekhout, has denied that the station obstructed the hospital’s work or that its equipment had been abandoned. She said just two of the station’s technicians went to the hospital every afternoon as the station’s studios are located elsewhere. She also said that Catia TV never received any warning and that the city hall authorities did not show any official order when they sealed the broadcast equipment. The station normally broadcasts from 4 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. every day.
José Angel Manrique, the head of the community media network, announced that Catia TV would refer the matter to the Inter-American Human Rights Commission when he appeared on Sunday on President Chávez’s weekly TV programme "Alo Presidente" on the state-owned Canal 8.
Community radio and TV stations have mushroomed since Hugo Chávez became president and a telecommunications law was passed in August 2000, opening the way for their legalisation. Most of them support the government and follow the president’s example in branding the major privately-owned news media as "coup supporters" and "traitors."
In an 11 April report, Reporters Without Borders noted that: "While taking a stand as press freedom defenders as regards the president, the privately-owned media would paradoxically be happy to see the community media shut down." Journalists working for the privately-owned news media are often the target of physical attacks by government supporters.