Venezuelan government pressures cable television providers to drop anti-Chavez channels

By By Christopher Toothaker, AP
Saturday, January 23, 2010

Cable TV providers dragged into Chavez-media spat

CARACAS, Venezuela — Cable TV providers that don’t drop channels violating Venezuela’s broadcast laws, such as those not airing President Hugo Chavez’s speeches, could face sanctions, a government official warned Saturday.

Taking another step in the government’s clash with media, Diosdado Cabello, director of Venezuela’s telecommunications agency, said several local channels carried by cable television have breached broadcasting laws and should be removed from the airwaves.

He said cable operations could find themselves in jeopardy if they keep showing those channels. “They must comply with the law, and they cannot have a single channel that violates Venezuelan laws as part of their programming,” he said.

Several channels have not shown Chavez’s televised speeches — a requirement under new regulations approved last month by the telecommunications agency, Cabello said.

Radio Caracas Television, an anti-Chavez channel known as RCTV that switched to cable in 2007 after the government refused to renew its over-the-air license, did not broadcast a speech by the president to his political supporters during a rally earlier Saturday.

Cabello’s agency notified RCTV and 23 other local cable television channels on Thursday that they must carry mandatory government programming, including Chavez’s frequent and long speeches.

Cabello said Saturday that other violations include failing to warn viewers of sexual and violent content as well as broadcasting more than two hours of soap operas during the afternoon, which should be mostly dedicated to children programming.

Cabello did not specify which TV channels have purportedly violated the law, but RCTV said it was the target. It accused the agency of pressuring cable providers to drop channels that are critical of the government.

The agency “doesn’t have any authority to give the cable service providers this order,” RCTV said in a statement. “The government is inappropriately pressuring them to make decisions beyond their responsibilities.”

In denying RCTV a renewal of its over-the-air broadcast license, Chavez accused the station of plotting against his government and supporting a failed 2002 coup.

Last August, Chavez’s government forced 32 radio stations and two small TV stations off the air, saying some owners had failed to renew their broadcast licenses while other licenses were no longer valid because they had been granted long ago to owners who are now dead. Officials said they planned to take more stations off the air.

Government figures say 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.

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