Venezuelan web evades Chavez's attempts to silence it

Venezuela’s oldest broadcaster continues to come up with creative ways to evade President Hugo Chavez’s efforts to stifle dissent in the media by shutting it down.

When Radio Caracas Television was booted from the terrestrial airwaves in 2007 for allegedly backing Chavez’s opposition, it switched to cable and flourished as feevee RCTV Intl.

In January, it was forced off the air yet again when it defied new laws requiring it to register with state-run telco regulator Conatel, carry all government programming — including Chavez’s marathon speeches — and cut ads to one per show.

As in 2007, violent protests against the decision broke out, this time leaving two students dead and 20 police injured in Merida, while peaceful protests occurred in other cities.

But RCTV should be back on air soon — using a loophole that gives international channels immunity from the new rules because they air at least 70% imported programming.

Last week, RCTV director general Marcel Granier unveiled plans for RCTV Mundo, which will continue its feisty news coverage alongside telenovelas from Colombia, Mexico and other Latin American providers plus general entertainment.

RCTV Intl. will not shutter but will register with Conatel as a national web and comply with the rules “under protest.”

“We needed to create RCTV Mundo to support RCTV Intl., which is not commercially sustainable under these new regulations,” says Granier.

Granier says cable and satellite operators and advertisers have responded positively to the plans for RCTV Mundo.

He is now waiting to recover RCTV Intl.’s signal and secure a new one for Mundo. “We could be launching RCTV Mundo as early as (this) week,” he says.

Founded in 1953, RCTV was a ratings champ until its license was revoked three years ago for its alleged support of a 2002 coup attempt against Chavez. RCTV now has a workforce of 1,500, down from 3,000 in 2007.

Meanwhile, another Chavez critic, Alberto Ravell, resigned as director of Venezuela’s 24-hour news channel Globovision in mid-February. Ravell sent a message through the Twitter social network saying he was pressured by the Globovision board to leave.

Globovision prexy and owner Guillermo Zuloaga denies that he succumbed to government pressure to oust Ravell.

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