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In Venezuela, court’s decision allows RCTV to remain on cable

New York, August 2, 2007—Venezuela’s Supreme Tribunal of Justice issued a stay Wednesday allowing RCTV International and dozens of regional stations to remain on cable temporarily, a ruling that came just hours before a deadline set by the government that could have removed their signals from paid subscription television.     

The constitutional chamber of the Supreme Tribunal agreed to hear an appeal by the Cable Television Chamber, which requested Venezuela’s highest tribunal clarify which stations will fall under the category of national broadcasters.

“The chamber established that there are no regulations for defining which are the national audiovisual production services,” a statement from the Supreme Tribunal said. The court’s decision suspended a request from the National Telecommunications Commission (CONATEL) to remove dozens of regional stations from cable and satellite providers’ programming if the stations did not register as national broadcasters by August 1.

Telecommunications Minister Jesse Chacón said today that he respects but does not share the court’s decision, according to local press reports. “It is simple,” said Chacón, “anything you produce here [in Venezuela] is domestic.”

Government officials said that national broadcasters must register before CONATEL in line with the 2004 Law of Social Responsibility in Radio and Television. This would compel cable stations, including RCTV, to broadcast a certain amount of nationally produced programming and children’s shows and carry live President Hugo Chávez’s cadenas, nationwide simultaneous radio and television broadcasts.

RCTV International, RCTV’s new signal, broadcasting since July 16, argues that the station has the same characteristics other international cable channels, which are not regulated by the 2004 law. 

Known for its harsh opposition views, RCTV is the country’s oldest private station, with 53 years on the air. On May 27, RCTV stopped broadcasting at 11:59 p.m. The station’s new signal, carried locally by four cable operators and one satellite provider, offers most of the same news shows, comedy, and soap opera programming as before. RCTV’s original frequency has been replaced by a new public service broadcaster called Venezuelan Social Television Station.

On April 24, CPJ issued an in-depth report, “Static in Venezuela,” which concluded that the Venezuelan government failed to conduct a fair and transparent review of RCTV’s concession renewal. The report, based on a three-month investigation, found the government’s decision was a predetermined and politically motivated effort to silence critical coverage.

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