Chávez threatens critical private broadcasters

New York, June 15, 2006—The Committee to Protect Journalists is dismayed by Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez’s threat to block the renewal of broadcast licenses for privately owned television and radio stations that oppose his government.

Chávez said Wednesday that he had ordered a review of licenses for media outlets that supported the 2002 coup attempt against him. He did not name the broadcasters.

Chávez said that private broadcasters were waging “psychological war to divide, weaken and destroy the nation,” as part of an “imperialist plan” to overthrow his government, media reported. Stations that favored the opposition could be denied broadcast licenses next year, he said.

William Lara, the minister of communication and information, told the local press that the government was legally entitled to refuse license renewals to stations whose behavior it deemed to be in violation of the law. He said he had “noticed a systematic tendency to violate the law.” The Caracas-based daily El Universal quoted Lara as saying there was a concrete possibility that some licenses would not be renewed in 2007.

“We urge President Chávez to refrain from making these kinds of menacing statements which could have a chilling effect on the press,” said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper. “The allocation of broadcast frequencies should be based on technical considerations not politics.”