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The country’s broadcast media have been under great strain during years of conflict with Chavez since the short-lived coup against him in April 2002. The campaign for the 15 February 2009 referendum that approved unlimited presidential re-election increased the media polarisation. Two of the four TV stations that backed the 2002 coup, Televen and Venevisión, kept their broadcasting frequencies by watering down their opinions. Globovisión, which continues to criticise the government, has been targeted by six administrative procedures, some including fines, that may shut the station down before its licence expires in 2013. Radio Caracas Televisión (RCTV), the oldest and most popular station, had to give up its terrestrial frequency to the government cultural station Televisora venezolana social (Teves). It resumed broadcasting by cable, as did RCTV Internacional (RCTVI), but was administratively targeted again in 2010.
Article 10 of the November 2004 law on broadcasting responsibility (Ley Resorte) allows the government to oblige all terrestrial media outlets to broadcast Chavez’ “cadenas.” A list of 24 cable stations (out of 160) newly subject to this law was issued on 21 January 2010. They have to link up to the main government station, Venezolana de Televisión (VTV), for the speeches or face a heavy fine or be forced off the air. RCTVI was suspended for the reason on 24 January. The station had to agree to register as a “national broadcasting producer” before being allowed to resume cable programmes, but it has not yet been authorised to.
The 11th anniversary of Chavez’ rule on 2 February 2010 saw him deliver his 2,000th “cadena,” which have totalled the equivalent of nearly two months of speaking continuously. This does not include his regular Sunday broadcast “Aló Presidente” on VTV, or a new programme started on 18 February, called “De repente… Con Chávez” (“Suddenly… with Chávez”) with no set schedule. Communications and information minister Blanca Eeckhout accused the daily paper Tal Cual on 29 January of using humour to “call for violence.” The target was presenter Laureano Márquez, whose jokes had angered Chavez before and led to the paper being fined a total $50,000. Similar accusations were made against Miguel Ángel Rodríguez, of RCTVI, who is being prosecuted for “inciting a coup d’état.”
The fight to punish killers of journalists meanwhile advanced with the arrest and jailing in late February 2010 of those who allegedly ordered the death of journalists Orel Sambrano and Mauro Marcano.
Updated March 2010
Already drastically restricted under Hugo Chávez, freedom of information has been under further constant attack ever since his successor, Nicolás Maduro, took office. The authorities hound any media that dares to publish information regarded as “subversive.”
Article 46 of the 1999 Bolivarian Constitution says, “Everyone has the right to respect for their physical, mental and moral integrity.” This principle cannot be reconciled with a situation in which reporters, editorialists and bloggers are exposed to vilification and violence, especially during elections, just because they work for a news outlet regarded as the showcase of one political camp or another.
The polarization of the media became even more pronounced during the April 2013 presidential election. The state-owned media, which are completely subservient to the government, provided either superficial or negative coverage of opposition candidate Henrique Capriles while much of the privately-owned press offered coverage that was equally biased in favour of Capriles.
The flawed media heritage left by Hugo Chávez, who died on 7 March 2013, has been maintained and even exacerbated by his successor. The amendment to the Social Responsibility in Radio and TV Law that the National Assembly passed December 2010 extended it to the electronic media and provided for fines or even suspensions for media that “incite or promote criminal activity,” “cause panic or disturb public order,” “discredit legitimately constituted authorities” or “engage in war propaganda.”
Ever since then, the vagueness of these provisions has allowed the government to use the National Telecommunications Commission (CONATEL) to punish independent media and even impose generalized censorship on coverage of pollution, the unofficial dollar exchange rate and shortages of basic staples. The media are nonetheless among those affected by the issues. The shortage of newsprint, for example, has forced some newspapers to reduce the size of their print versions or even eliminate them altogether.
CONATEL has the power to suspend and withdraw broadcast media licences and many radio stations have been shut down in the past few years. Government intimidation and harassment encourage media and journalists to censor themselves. There are many obstacles to covering subjects of public interest. What’s more, obtaining information is getting harder and harder, and accreditation to cover official events is becoming more and more restricted. The only independent TV station, Globovisión, which was often harassed by CONATEL, ended up being bought by pro-government businessmen.
Government vilification of media and journalists is often included in the official messages known as cadenas which all broadcast media (except those broadcasting internationally) are required to carry simultaneously and which often consist of harangues by the president in person, who is able to continue for as long as he likes.
President Maduro announced on 10 September 2013 that all broadcast media would soon have to transmit two cadenas a day. Abused for propaganda purposes, these official announcements have not been subject to any regulation as regards frequency, duration or content.
Venezuela’s withdrawal from the Inter-American Convention on Human Rights in September 2013 deprived the country’s already embattled journalists of a significant guarantee of protection.
Updated in December 2013
Venezuela - 26 February 2014