TV stations not worried about Chavez’s license threat

Left-leaning leader's pronouncement seen as just more saber-rattling

Shortly before his landslide re-election earlier this month, Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez threatened to put the renewal of private TV licenses up for a vote.

But local TV execs aren’t exactly quaking in their boots.

Indeed, Chavez’s pronouncement are seen as just more saber-rattling by the left-leaning leader.

Chavez is apparently still bristling over coverage by the four major private stations of a short-lived coup against him in 2002 — during which they opted to air movies and cartoons instead of chronicling his return to power. He has said he regretted not shuttering four stations.

The local TV biz doesn’t expect much to come of Chavez’s recent pronouncements.

“If it came to a referendum, we would win. We have the highest ratings in Venezuela,” says Cisneros Group VP Carlos Bardasano.

“Chavez is a man very given to bark and very rarely to bite,” says Larry Birns, director of the New York-based think tank, Council on Hemispheric Affairs.

Birns says he doesn’t think — at this point — there’s any significant threat to private TV stations, noting that Chavez has been trying to counter visions of his government as a dictatorship by pointing to the vibrancy of the opposition.

Since taking power six years ago, Chavez has sought to formalize his control of the local media through a string of laws, the latest being the Media Content reg.

The law makes it illegal to “promote, condone or incite disrespect for legitimate authorities and institutions.” Hence, mocking or criticizing the president and his government can be declared a criminal act.

Birns, however, says he knows of no examples where the Media Content reg has actually been used to restrict media companies.