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Opposition leader Henrique Capriles addresses protesters and the press in Caracas on April 22. Journalists and news outlets covering the unrest have been harassed. (AP/Fernando Llano)

Venezuela regulator takes two international news stations off air

April 26, 2017 3:07 PM ET

Venezuela's state telecommunications regulator Conatel ordered two international news broadcasters-- El Tiempo from Colombia, and Todo Noticias from Argentina-- off the air on April 19, 2017, the broadcasters reported.

The broadcasters said that they were providing live coverage of nationwide protests when DirecTV, a major cable carrier, took the channels off air. Around 2:30 p.m. local time on April 19, viewers began complaining to the station via social media that the channel with El Tiempo's signal was unavailable and that no future programming appeared on the DirecTV program schedule, according to El Tiempo. Viewers reported similar problems with the Todo Noticias channel.

Héctor Rivero, head of DirecTV Venezuela, confirmed that he was ordered to take both stations off the air, according to Darío Restrepo, director of television programming for El Tiempo.

In a Facebook Live video responding to the incident, Restrepo said that Rivero told him representatives from Conatel arrived at his office in Caracas, accompanied by police officers, and ordered him to remove the signals of El Tiempo and Todo Noticias from DirecTV's programming. Restrepo did not say if Conatel explained the reason for its actions.

"This is another act of censorship by the Venezuelan government. There can be no doubt about this," Restrepo said in the Facebook video.

CPJ could not determine if the broadcasters plan to appeal the order. Neither station immediately responded to CPJ's request for comment.

The outlets continue to broadcast online, either through their own websites or platforms including YouTube and Periscope.

Separately, on April 20, 2017, Spanish channel Antena 3 Internacional had its signal interrupted for more than two hours, according to reports. Antena 3 Internacional reported that its parent company, Atresmedia, filed a complaint with Conatel seeking a formal written explanation for the interruption. Atresmedia did not immediately respond to CPJ's email request for comment.

According to news reports, the blackout occurred after WhatsApp users in Venezuela circulated messages suggesting that Antena 3 Internacional planned to re-air a 2016 investigative documentary series critical of President Nicolás Maduro's government. In a press release, Antena 3 Internacional called the rumor "erroneous" and stated that it had not scheduled another broadcast of the series.

Conatel did not immediately respond to CPJ's request for comment on any of these incidents.

The blocking of broadcasts comes amid unrest in Venezuela, with ongoing protests over a Supreme Court ruling to strip the opposition-led National Assembly of its lawmaking powers. CPJ has documented how access has been blocked to at least three websites, and journalists covering the protests have been harassed and detained.

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