Venezuelan networks tread lightly

RCTV closure quiets Chavez foes

When Venezuela’s left-wing leader Hugo Chavez shut down the country’s oldest broadcaster, Radio Caracas Television, on May 27, shock waves reverberated around the globe.

RCTV was deluged with support from as far away as Bulgaria, France, the Ivory Coast, South Africa and even China.

“Never did we ever receive so many calls, emails and faxes expressing solidarity and genuine concern over our situation,” says Miami-based RCTV Intl. sales VP Andres Santos.

Despite losing its terrestrial broadcasting rights in Venezuela, RCTV will try to continue its output of six telenovelas a year for international buyers. Not one of RCTV’s nearly 3,000 employees has been laid off although some left of their own accord. 

But revenue from international sales “are not enough to maintain production levels as well as company operations,” says RCTV marketing and sales veep Julian Isaac in Caracas. The going rate for a single episode of the 100-plus-ep sudsers ranges from $500 to $1,500.

In the meantime, the 53-year-old web has aired its news programs over YouTube and via satellite to Colombian web Caracol and others.

Chavez accused the channel of backing a 2002 coup against him and violating various broadcast laws.

But his decision to allow the broadcaster’s license to expire and replace it with government-backed net TVes has given rival Venevision dominance over the market where it usually ran second in share.

Detractors of Venevision, which is owned by media giant Cisneros Group, question its independance and point to a meeting arranged by former U.S. President Carter between Chavez and Cisneros Group owner Gustavo Cisneros in 2004, after which, they say, Venevision’s anti-Chavez rhetoric toned down.

Yet Venevision’s license was renewed May 26 for five years instead of the 25 it sought.

And, says, Venevision CEO Carlos Bardasano, “We have always shown all the demonstrations, both against and in favor of the state’s decision to not renew RCTV’s license.”

News web Globovision is the only opposition-aligned broadcaster standing, but its influence and exposure are limited. 

RCTV is not the only web struggling against the threat of government closure.

“In Latin America, the new populist regimes like the ones in Ecuador (and Bolivia) are using their popularity to suppress all dissident media to maintain ‘good taste and integrity,’ ” says Wolfgang Schalk, helmer of “X-Rays of a Lie,” a docu that exposes the manipulation behind pro-Chavist docu “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.” 

“They start with TV because it is the fastest way to reach a lot of people, especially in Latin America. In Venezuela, more than 95% of homes have a TV set; not so many people read the papers.”

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