Globovisión probed over Chávez inauguration reports

Bogotá, January 10, 2013–Venezuelan authorities announced late Wednesday that they had launched an investigation against a private TV station that had aired reports questioning the legality of postponing the inauguration of President Hugo Chávez. The Committee to Protect Journalists calls on the government to immediately drop this politicized investigation and to end its persistent harassment of Globovisión, the country’s only TV station critical of the government.

The Globovisión segments, which ran for several weeks beginning in late December, consisted of footage of officials suggesting the inauguration be postponed and speeches by Chávez in which he swore to uphold the constitution. The four clips also featured constitutional articles outlining inauguration procedures that appeared to contradict the officials’ statements. Chávez was supposed to be sworn in today, but is recovering from an operation in Havana for an unspecified form of cancer. The Supreme Court ruled early Wednesday that the inauguration could be postponed. The court did not specify the future date.

Pedro Maldonado, president of the Venezuelan telecommunications regulatory agency, known as Conatel, announced Wednesday after the court’s decision that it was opening an investigation into Globovisión for violating the Law of Social Responsibility in connection with its segments that could potentially cause “anxiety” or “alter public order,” according to news reports. Authorities have frequently used this law to target critical news outlets, including Globovisión.

Conatel made its announcement just hours after National Assembly president Diosdado Cabello and Energy Minister Rafael Ramírez, both longtime Chávez loyalists, called on Conatel to crack down on Globovisión. On Wednesday, Cabello called Globovisión “irresponsible and manipulative,” while Ramírez said the agency should take action against the outlet.

Conatel also prohibited Globovisión from rebroadcasting the controversial spots or any similar programs, according to news reports, which Ricardo Antela, a lawyer for Globovisión, said constituted prior censorship. Antela said Conatel appeared to be acting upon the orders of Cabello and Ramirez.

“We call on authorities to halt this highly politicized effort to use the power of the state to silence dissenting views on the inauguration,” said Carlos Lauría, CPJ’s senior program coordinator for the Americas. “A full and robust debate about the constitutional requirements is central to the democratic process.”

Globovisión Vice President María Fernanda Flores said Globovisión had stopped broadcasting the reports as soon as the Supreme Court issued its decision on Wednesday, according to news reports. If the Conatel investigation finds Globovisión guilty, Maldonado said the outlet could face a fine equal to 10 percent of its gross profits from 2012 or the closure of the station for up to 72 hours.

This is the eighth time in the past eight years that Globovisión has been sanctioned by Conatel. In October 2011, following a deadly riot in June at the El Rodeo Prison outside Caracas, the outlet was fined 9.3 million bolívares (US$2.16 million) by Conatel for its coverage of the crisis. An August 2012 CPJ report found that Globovisión has been besieged by government harassment, investigations, and fines and faces unprecedented challenges.

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