By Christopher Gehrke
Impunity Watch Senior Desk Officer, South America
Radio Caracas Televisión (RCTV), Venezuela’s oldest television station, was taken off the air May 27th after 53 years of broadcasting. The decision not to renew RCTV’s lease was made by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who said that RCTV “became a threat to the country” and that he had a “responsibility” to shut it down. RCTV’s news programs regularly disparage President Chavez’s socialist-leaning transformation of Venezuelan government. Chavez defended his decision by claiming that the station supported a coup against him in 2002. The station will be replaced by the state-sponsored Venezuelan Social TV (TVES). The other two national stations, Venevision and Televen, have already removed all content critical of the government from their programming.
RCTV supporters say that Chavez is stomping on freedom of expression by silencing a channel that is often critical. José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch agrees, and stated that Chavez is “misusing the state’s regulatory authority to punish a media outlet for its criticism of the government.” Gonzalo Marroquín, the president of the Inter-American Press Association said in a statement that Chavez’s decision was intended to “standardize the right to information, and results in a very bleak outlook for the whole hemisphere.” The U.S. Senate and E.U. Parliament also criticized RCTV’s closure.
The government argues that the station violated broadcast laws and transmitted violent and morally degrading programs. The government’s “White Book on RCTV”, which details the allegations made against the station, accuses RCTV of “inciting rebellion,” showing a “lack of respect for authorities and institutions,” as well. Human Rights Watch points out that the White Book does not present any final judicial or administrative rulings that establish that RCTV had committed any of these offenses, nor was the criteria on which this decision was based available beforehand.
Hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets Sunday, some celebrating the decision, some protesting it. Police claimed that shots were fired in their direction and that 11 officers were injured by protesters hurling rocks. A protest rally made their way to the headquarters of the broadcasting regulator to voice their disapproval. The crowd was dispersed by police wielding tear gas, water cannons, and plastic bullets.
For more information, see:
“Venezuela police repel protests over TV network’s closing” NY Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/05/28/world/americas/28venez.html (free login required) 28 May 2007.
“Venezuela Shuts Down TV Network” NY Times: http://www.nytimes.com/reuters/world/international-venezuela-rctv.html (free login required) 28 May 2007.
“Venezuela: TV Shutdown Harms Freedom of Expression” Human Rights Watch: http://hrw.org/english/docs/2007/05/22/venezu15986.htm. 28 May 2007.
“Rallies as Venezuelan TV closes” BBC News: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/6696699.stm. 28 May 2007.
“TV row widens Venezuela’s rift” BBC News: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/6697575.stm. 28 May 2007.