Globovisión under investigation

New York, December 4, 2008–The investigation of critical private broadcaster Globovisión for alleged violations of Venezuelan regulations is another attempt by the government of President Hugo Chávez Frías to control the flow of information and restrict news coverage, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

At midnight on November 27, two officials from the Venezuelan National Telecommunications Commission (CONATEL) informed Globovisión’s administrators that the government regulator had begun administrative proceedings against the network for allegedly violating the Law of Social Responsibility, according to local and international news reports.

CONATEL said it was investigating whether Globovisión had broadcast messages that incited public disorder. The station aired a speech by the opposition candidate for governor of the state of Carabobo, Henrique Salas Feo, before his victory was officially announced following the November 23 regional elections. Salas said that he knew he had won. In a press conference a day after the elections, Chávez ordered CONATEL to “severely discipline” a local broadcaster for airing election results prior to official confirmation, according to news reports. The Venezuelan president didn’t name Globovisión directly.

Globovisión is facing a second administrative proceeding stemming from remarks broadcast on October 13 by anti-Chávez journalist Rafael Poleo, director of the daily El Nuevo País, on the daily talk show “Aló Ciudadano” (Hello Citizen), according to local news reports. In the broadcast, Poleo said that President Chávez “could end up like Mussolini.” CONATEL said that Poleo’s commentary could have violated the Law on Social Responsibility by airing messages that could promote or incite crime or public disorder and could affect national security, Globovisión lawyer Ana Cristina Núñez told CPJ.

“These absurd measures are a clear sign that the Venezuelan government is intensifying its attacks against the private media in an attempt to stifle dissent,” said Carlos Lauría, CPJ Americas senior program coordinator. “We urge local authorities to dismiss any sanctions against Globovisión and show greater tolerance toward criticism.”  

CONATEL began reviewing the Poleo case on November 28 and has 30 business days to make public its decision. The second proceeding is set to be reviewed starting January 13, sources told CPJ. CONATEL can temporarily suspended Globovisión for up to 72 hours or revoke the network’s license in either case as sanction, Núñez said.

On November 28, Venezuela’s National Assembly made public a report on its investigation into an alleged plot to murder Chávez, according to local news reports. In its report, the Assembly urged the attorney general’s office to investigate an opposition leader, military officers, and media executives–including Globovisión’s director, Alberto Federico Ravell Ravell–for allegedly participating in the plot.

The investigation stemmed from claims by Chávez and other high-ranking officials that a group of radical opponents backed by the United States were planning to assassinate Chávez and overthrow his government. The media executives and U.S. officials have vehemently denied any involvement in a plot. CPJ sent Chávez a letter expressing concern over the allegations on October 6.

In May 2007, RCTV, the country’s oldest private television went off the air after the Venezuelan government made an unprecedented decision to not renew its broadcast concession. RCTV Internacional launched a paid subscription service via cable and satellite on July 16, 2007, which continues to offer critical programming.

Globovisón, known for its strident antigovernment views, has been the only critical private network freely broadcasting since RCTV went off the air. Its programming can only be viewed in metropolitan Caracas and the state of Carabobo. The other remaining private networks, Televén and Venevisión, have eased their criticism of the Chávez administration in order to comply with restrictive regulations.   

Globovisión has been the target of continuous harassment. On September 23, a group of unidentified individuals tossed two tear gas canisters at the network’s offices in Caracas. The assailants left fliers declaring the network a military target, local press reported. The fliers were signed by a pro-government group called La Piedrita.