Anti-Chavez TV channel at risk of being forced off cable in Venezuela, lawyer says

By Fabiola Sanchez, AP
Friday, January 22, 2010

Anti-Chavez cable channel at risk, lawyer says

CARACAS, Venezuela — A Venezuelan TV channel that takes a critical line against Hugo Chavez could be forced off cable if it doesn’t carry mandatory government programming including some of the president’s speeches, a lawyer for the channel said Friday.

The government forced Radio Caracas Television, or RCTV, off the open airwaves in 2007 by refusing to renew its broadcast license, and the channel subsequently moved to cable under the name Radio Caracas Television International.

Venezuela’s telecommunications agency said Thursday that two dozen local cable channels including RCTV must carry government programming when deemed mandatory, just like broadcast channels already do. Chavez often uses the measure — referred to as a “national network” — to have his speeches shown in full on all TV channels and radio stations.

RCTV lawyer Oswaldo Quintana said cable providers were told by the telecommunications agency the if RCTV doesn’t carry the next mandatory programming segment, “they would have to take us off the air.”

“They invented something additional that isn’t in the law,” Quintana said, referring to a new measure allowing only limited commercials between programs on local cable channels. He said that requirement is aimed at “destroying you as a channel.”

Public Works Minister Diosdado Cabello, who also heads the telecommunications agency, on Thursday announced a list of cable channels that have more than 30 percent of locally produced programming and are to be bound by the rules approved by the agency last month.

Cabello said if a channel don’t comply with the law, cable providers should “remove it from their lineup immediately.”

RCTV executive Marcel Granier said at a news conference that “we will continue to be an international channel” and that the company on Friday appealed to the Supreme Court for legal protection from the government’s measures. Granier didn’t say whether the channel plans to carry the next mandatory Chavez speech.

Government figures show that as of 2008 about 37 percent of Venezuelan homes received cable television. But some private companies say that according to their research, about six out of every 10 households have subscription television service — popular in part because some Venezuelans prefer not to listen to the president’s lengthy and frequent speeches.

Chavez refused to renew RCTV’s broadcast license in 2007 accusing it of plotting against the government and lending support to a failed 2002 coup.

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