Venezuelan Opposition Network RCTV Goes Off Air; Refuses To Broadcast Government Messages or Register as National TV Station

January 25, 2010 By Roque Planas

Cable providers dropped the opposition channel Radio Caracas Television, better known as RCTV, after it refused to comply with Venezuelan laws requiring local television stations to periodically televise speeches by President Hugo Chávez, the Associated Press reports.

RCTV was previously classified as an international network, excusing it from complying with local laws requiring the station to broadcast government messages, but the Venezuelan government revoked RCTV’s international status last week, along with that of 23 other stations, according to the BBC. Venezuelan law requires a station to produce less than 30 percent of its content within Venezuela in order to be classified as international.

Director of the National Telecommunications Commission (CONTEL) Diosdado Cabello asked cable providers on Saturday to stop broadcasting national stations who had yet to register with the government, Bloomberg reports.

The conflict between Chávez and RCTV is personal as well as political. Chávez accuses the station of having supported the attempted coup against him in 2002. A former news operations manager for RCTV’s program El Observador Andrés Izarra told Columbia journalism professor and former Latin America correspondent John Dinges that RCTV purposely portrayed the coup as a resignation and ordered him to show “zero Chávez supporters on screen.” (The interview is available in the July/August 2005 issue of the Columbia Journalism Review).

Critics of Hugo Chávez, on the other hand, have characterized Venezuela’s media laws as attacks on the principle of free speech. Referring to the decision to compel private television stations to broadcast presidential messages, Reporters Without Borders said

Reporters Without Borders today reacted with dismay as compulsory airing of President Hugo Chávez’s extremely lengthy speeches (cadenas) was extended for the first time to cable channels, meaning no Venezuelan TV viewer will be able to escape them in future.

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