Globovision threatened with sactions over report

HOLLYWOOD A news report about an earthquake is sending aftershocks through the Venezuelan TV biz.

President Hugo Chavez has demanded sanctions against commercial news web Globovision, calling its execs “white-collar terrorists” after it reported a May 4 earthquake before the government had released any information about the quake, which measured 5.5 on the Richter scale.

Globovision director Alberto Federico Ravell got the details about the temblor from the U.S. Geological Survey.  Globovision reported the nonfatal incident, and slammed the government for its slow response.

“For this, they accuse us of psychological terrorism,” Ravell says. “They’re using this as an excuse to shut us down. But our broadcast license does not expire until 2015, so they can’t use that as a pretext as they did with RCTV.”

RCTV, the nation’s oldest broadcast web, lost its license two years ago after 56 years in business because it was critical of the government.

The authorities ratcheted up the pressure on Globovision on May 22 when Venezuelan intelligence agents raided a house owned by Globovision prexy Guillermo Zuloaga

Senator John Kerry, chair of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called the raid “deeply troubling” and urged Chavez to “respect all independent media and cease all harassment.”

The committee will monitor the situation in Venezuela for now.

Globovision reaches 40% of the country free-to-air, mainly in Caracas and Valencia, while the rest of the country picks it up via cable and satellite.

While opposition-owned newspapers and radio stations are openly critical of the government, commercial webs Venevision and Televen have kept mum to avoid suffering RCTV’s fate.

Chavez recently threatened harsh measures against any media provoking unrest, saying: “You are playing with fire, manipulating, inciting hatred and much more. All of you: television networks, radio stations, newspapers.”

Now a feevee, RCTV had to halve employee numbers to 1,500 and cut its telenovela production from six to three a year to survive.

“It’s been tough, but you have to play the hand you’re dealt,” says RCTV Intl. VP and general manager Guadalupe D’Agostino, in Los Angeles for the L.A. Screenings.

Ironically, RCTV is thriving thanks to Chavez.

“Pay TV penetration tripled to more than 60% in Venezuela after RCTV went to cable,” D’Agostino says.

Pay TV auds reportedly spike every time Chavez takes to the airwaves with his typically marathon speeches.

Globovision’s fate is uncertain, but Ravell is determined to fight government action in the courts.

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more