Venezuela's Media War: The Latest Battle

by Rick Rockwell

Writing from Nicaragua (yes, Nicaragua!), the media world south of the Rio Grande is gripped tonight with the fate of Venezuela’s RCTV.

The English-language media may have lost interest in the war between RCTV – once the oldest broadcast network in Venezuela – and that country’s President Hugo Chavez. However, the top international story in Managua today was the latest moves by the Venezuelan state to shut down the revived television channel. The BBC’s Spanish service is following the story, but the English side remains asleep.

Other duties prevent a full recap and analysis of this saga, but here’s the short version:

1) Venezuela removed the network’s license to broadcast in late May, making various accusations, including taking note of how the network aided a failed coup against Chavez.

2) RCTV returned in July as a cable and satellite station. As a cable and satellite service also on the air in various Caribbean countries, RCTV became an international broadcaster. The channel used this status to avoid government decrees, which permit Chavez to seize control of channels for speeches at his whim.

3) Venezuela’s Communication Commission has ordered that RCTV should be closed just before midnight (Caracas time) unless the channel agrees to register as a Venezuelan operation, effectively giving the state more control of the channel’s content. So far, courts are upholding that ruling.

4) International free press groups are condemning yet another action against the Venezuelan station.

As usual, the Chavez government may have reasons for its actions and appears to be using legal methods, however, the end result stifles free speech, to speak nothing of the problems RCTV has had with getting due process and a fair hearing.

Stay Tuned. RCTV’s battle against Chavez is not over yet, but one of the final chapters could be written tonight.

For more background on this story, please see these previous entries:

(In the photo, police confront supporters of RCTV in Caracas with a water cannon in May. Photo by 2007.urtea via Flickr, using a Creative Commons license.)

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