Government defends controversial RCTV closure

In the wake of the controversial shutdown of Venezuela’s oldest broadcaster, RCTV, on Sunday night, President Hugo Chavez’s government is stepping up the pressure on other local webs and even rattling its saber at CNN for any hint of opposition to its strong-arm tactics.

Minister of Communications William Lara has cited two segments aired by CNN, one depicting crowds of protesters and another placing a photo of Chavez alongside that of a late Al Qaeda leader and of some demonstrations in China. Lara claims latter images were meant to “associate the image of Chavez with that of violence and death” while footage of a demonstration was in fact taken in Acapulco when people took to the streets after the killing of a journalist and was not, as CNN claimed, of protests against the closure of RCTV (Radio Caracas Television).

Lara claimed these images formed part of an international campaign to discredit and attack Venezuela, which would take its case against CNN to an international court. 

In a rather bizarre turn of events, Lara said the government will sue local 24-hour news web Globovision for recently airing archival footage of the 1981 assassination attempt on the late Pope John Paul II, stating that the broadcasting of the footage would only serve to “stir up hate.”

Globovision, now the only remaining opposition-sided TV channel, does not air across the country. Earlier, pro-Chavez vandals attacked the headquarters of Globovision, chanting obscenities and spray-painting slogans on the building’s outer walls.

RCTV’s biggest rival, Venevision, owned by local media conglom Grupo Cisneros, has opted to ignore the protesters and their clashes with police in the streets of Caracas, airing movies and telenovelas instead. Public broadcasting licenses for Venevision as well as four other networks, including state-run VTC, were renewed on Saturday.

Journalists from Venevision have taken to the streets to protest against their company’s silence.

Founded in 1953, RCTV frequently led in the ratings through its heady mix of steamy telenovelas, heated talkshows and “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.” Chavez’s government accuses the web of helping to provoke a coup that ousted Chavez from office for two days in 2002. It further irked Chavez by declining to report on his government’s return and aired cartoons instead.

RCTV chairman Marcel Granier said that the company would continue to fight the shutdown in the courts and that the network may transmit via cable in the future. Authorities have seized RCTV’s broadcast equipment, including antennae and relay stations.

Meanwhile, RCTV has ordered its telenovela actors back to work. “RCTV has international (sales) commitments, so it has to continue producing its telenovelas,” said thesp Dad Dager, who stars in RCTV sudser “Camaleona” (Chameleon) and was among many others who had tear gas lobbed at them by the police. “I feel our freedom of expression has been violated,” she said.

RCTV has been replaced by state-backed TVES, which the government claims will be more diverse, acquiring 70% of its content from independent Venezuelan producers.

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