Government ministry investigates television stations

New York, January 23, 2003—The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is alarmed that the Infrastructure Ministry is investigating private television stations Globovisión and Radio Caracas Televisión (RCTV) to determine whether they violated media broadcast regulations. The ministry could fine the stations or suspend or revoke their licenses. CPJ believes that the stations are being targeted for their anti-government and pro-opposition coverage.

On January 20, ministry officials notified Globovisión and RCTV that they had opened administrative procedures against the two stations. Officials delivered a January 17 letter signed by Infrastructure Minister Diosdado Cabello Rondón, who informed the stations that they were under investigation for allegedly violating Article 53 of the Radio Communications Regulations and Article 171.6 of the Organic Telecommunications Law. Globovisión and RCTV have 15 working days to present their defense.

In his letter to Globovisión, Cabello cites as evidence of the alleged violations, statements by opposition leaders and rebellious military officers, as well as political advertisements by opposition groups, that were broadcast by Globovisión between October and December 2002. The letter also said that, after recording and analyzing Globovisión broadcasts, the Venezuelan National Telecommunications Commission (Conatel), an entity of the Infrastructure Ministry, had recommended that an investigation be opened. The individuals and groups that made the statements and the advertisements have not been charged with any crime.

Article 53 of the Radio Communications Regulations forbids the broadcasting of speech that incites rebellion and disrespect of institutions and its authorities; of propaganda aimed at subverting public order; and of false, deceitful, or malicious signals and news. Article 171.6 of the Organic Telecommunications Law, provides for, in addition to any applicable fines, the cancellation of the administrative authorization or concession to “anybody who uses or allows the use of the telecommunications services for which he is authorized, as means to contribute to the commission of crimes.”

During the last several weeks, President Hugo Chávez Frías has threatened to cancel the broadcasting concessions of private TV stations. This latest chapter in the conflict between Chávez and the media occurs in the context of a 50-day strike called by the largest labor union federation, 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. Since the strike was extended indefinitely in December 2002, both private and state media have abandoned all pretense of objectivity and balance.