Venezuela suspends critical radio program

Bogotá, August 19, 2014–Venezuelan authorities should immediately reverse the suspension of a critical radio program that has been off the air since Friday, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

The Venezuelan telecommunications regulator CONATEL on Friday ordered the suspension of “Aquí entre tú y yo” (Between Us), a weekday news and opinion radio program on the popular AM station Radio Caracas Radio, or RCR, according to news reports. The program, which is harshly critical of the government, was hosted by Nitu Pérez Osuna, a veteran TV and radio journalist who has often criticized the late leader Hugo Chávez, as well as current President Nicolás Maduro.

In a statement, CONATEL said it was launching an administrative investigation into the program and that the program would remain off the air for the duration of the investigation. The regulator said the program may have violated two articles of Venezuela’s controversial Law of Social Responsibility for Radio, TV and Electronic Media, which prohibits the dissemination of information that promotes hatred or intolerance for political reasons, foments public anxiety, alters public order, or refuses to recognize the legitimacy of government officials.

CONATEL cited several possible violations by the program in shows that aired between February and August 2014 in which President Maduro was called an “assassin,” a “dictator,” and a “drug trafficker” by Pérez Osuna, her guests, or listeners calling in to the program.

In a separate statement, CONATEL published transcripts of several of the program’s shows, some of which aired amid deadly anti-government protests that broke out in February. In one of the shows, according to the CONATEL transcript, Pérez Osuna said government officials were “obsessed with power and are capable of large-scale killings or of ordering large-scale killings to keep themselves in power.”

“President Nicolás Maduro seems intent on eliminating the last few remaining critical media outlets in Venezuela,” said CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney from New York. “The authorities should immediately overturn this ban and allow RCR and all other news outlets to publish the news and opinion as they see fit.”

Earlier this year, CONATEL suspended another program on the station, called “Plomo Parejo,” which was hosted by Iván Ballesteros, a former member of the Venezuelan armed forces and a government critic. CONATEL launched an administrative investigation into the program on May 7. The program is still off the air. These suspensions often last for months or years and amount to de facto cancellation and censorship, Carlos Correa, director of the Caracas-based press freedom organization Espacio Público, told CPJ at the time.

Maduro’s government has used a number of tactics–including limiting access to newsprint, ordering Internet service providers to block websites that provide the black market exchange rate, and suppressing reports of economic upheaval–to put pressure on the country’s remaining independent media outlets, according to CPJ research.