New York, February 6, 2003—The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is alarmed that Venezuela's Infrastructure Ministry has opened an investigation into the private, Caracas-based television stations Televén and Venevisión to determine if they have violated media broadcast regulations. The ministry could fine the stations or suspend or even revoke their licenses.
On January 30 and February 5, respectively, ministry officials notified Televén and Venevisión that they had opened administrative proceedings against the stations for allegedly violating several media laws, including Article 53 of the Radio Communications Regulation, which forbids broadcasting speech that "incites rebellion and disrespect of institutions and its authorities" and broadcasting "propaganda aimed at subverting public order; and false, deceitful, or malicious signals and news."
Televén and Venevisión have 15 working days to present their defense to the ministry. Once the ministry has received the stations' defense briefs, it has 120 days to make a decision. As evidence of the alleged violations, Infrastructure Minister Diosdado Cabello Rondón cited statements broadcast by Televén between October 2002 and January 2003 from opposition leaders and rebellious military officers, as well as political advertisements by opposition groups.
Cabello also accused Televén of broadcasting news coverage of an opposition strike and political advertisements from the opposition during the 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. time slot, which, according to Article 11 of the Partial Regulations on Television Broadcasting, should be devoted to children's programming.
The evidence offered against Venevisión included statements broadcast from rebellious military officers.
On January 20, ministry officials notified Caracas-based television stations Globovisión and RCTV that they had opened similar administrative proceedings against the two stations. Televisora Regional del Táchira, a TV station based in the Andean Táchira State, also faces administrative proceedings. For more information, see CPJ's January 23 news alert.. Between December 2002 and January 2003, President Hugo Chávez Frías repeatedly threatened to cancel the broadcasting concessions of private TV stations. In statements made on February 4, 2003, Minister Cabello said, "The television channels that broadcast programming that they know they should not broadcast should assume their responsibility." Cabello added that more administrative proceedings against other radio or television stations could be opened this week.
These latest developments in the conflict between Chávez and the media occur in the aftermath of a two-month long strike called by the country's largest labor union, the business association Fedecámaras, and the opposition umbrella group Coordinadora Democrática. Most Venezuelan media have actively backed the opposition and joined in supporting the strike, which ended on February 2. Amid an extremely polarized environment, both private and state media have dropped all pretense of objectivity from their news coverage.