The Venezuelan television channel RCTV will be ending its operation at midnight May 26. The government of President Hugo Chavez is not renewing the station’s 20-year-old public broadcasting license.
Chavez’s opponents will mark the occasion by mounting all-out protests, and the resulting turmoil, observers say, could rival that which surrounded the two-day attempted coup against him in April 2002.
Chavez’s government accuses RCTV of having served right-wing opposition forces by transmitting lies before and during that coup, and of having violated hundreds of laws and regulations.
RCTV owner and multimillionaire Marcel Granier, writing in The Wall Street Journal, denounced Chavez for his attempt to “stifle the pluralism of opinion in news and talk programs, and to cut off the free flow of information and debate in Venezuela.”
The U.S. State Department in January criticized “any attempt to restrict a free press, in Venezuela or elsewhere,” while conservative members of the European Parliament, lobbied by Granier in early May, tried unsuccessfully to pass a pro-RCTV resolution.
A new channel called Venezuelan Information Television (TEVES) will take over the frequency vacated by RCTV. According to a spokesperson, TEVES is a “public” rather than a government entity and will broadcast independently produced programs.
After initial subsidies, TEVES will become self-financing through advertisements and a public-private partnership. The channel will be inclusive and “very participatory” and will welcome all opinions, the spokesperson said.
On May 18, the Supreme Court refused to grant Granier’s request for an injunction against Chavez, leaving the matter up to the National Telecommunications Commission. Further court action is possible.
Massive anti-Chavez demonstrations are expected for May 26. Right-wing media, which still dominate Venezuela’s news and entertainment outlets, have called for large turnouts. The government has warned of possible violence, provocations and destabilization attempts. Chavez’s supporters have called for a big pro-government demonstration on the same day.
Both sides have staged preliminary protests, including an opposition march May 19 in East Caracas. On May 20 a “Socialist Force of Professionals, Technicians, and Intellectuals” marched in every state in support of the president.
National Assembly President Celia Flores, alluding to the previous coup attempt, reported May 15 that right-wing plotters, “trying to replay an April 11,” distributed a false copy of the Official Gazette, a government journal, testifying to the elimination of private education, redistribution of real estate and confiscation of property.
Opposition politicians in Merida sued Chavez on May 16 for “politicizing” the military, accusing him of forcing soldiers to proclaim, “Homeland, socialism or death,” especially when subordinates address superior officers.
On May 17, from exile in Miami, former President Carlos Andres Perez called for international pressure to “keep Hugo Chavez from delivering another blow to an already weakened freedom of expression.”
On May 6, police in Miranda state confiscated five automatic weapons and three days later discovered a cache of 144 Molotov cocktails. They arrested two individuals allegedly preparing to blow up the pro-Chavez local legislative council.
Telesur, a regional Latin American news service initiated by Venezuela, held an international conference on communications in Caracas, May 19-20. At the conference, Jesse Chacon, Venezuela’s telecommunications minister, said that ideas about “democratizing communication” are what led to RCTV’s loss of its license.
“Communication is not a matter of merchandising,” Chacon said, citing Venezuela’s “constitutional mandate” to provide citizens with full access to television, radio, Internet and books.
U.S. actor Danny Glover attended the conference as a member of Telesur’s advisory council. “The people,” he said, “have to take power and establish themselves as architects of the mass media.” Glover denounced the U.S. media’s cover-up of the Katrina disaster and its manipulation of information.
Chris Carlson, writing for Venezuelanalysis.com, suggests that U.S. experience in Eastern Europe serves as a precedent for Washington’s role in Venezuela, where its goal is to “destabilize the government by organizing and directing opposition groups to commit acts of peaceful resistance and mass protests.”
The Bush administration has funded Venezuelan nongovernmental organizations to the tune of millions of dollars.