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Last Updated: Tuesday, 29 May 2007, 13:46 GMT 14:46 UK
Venezuela TV saga fires freedom debate
Amid the fallout from the closure of Venezuela's oldest private TV station, debate has raged about the state of media freedom in the country.

Protest against non-renewal of RCTV licence, May 2007
Some see the RCTV closure as an attack on press freedom

Some Venezuelan officials say there is no deterioration of freedom of expression, but there have been warnings in the region's press of a creeping authoritarianism.

The authorities pulled the plug on Radio Caracas TV's (RCTV) terrestrial signal on 27 May. The network had been championed by its supporters as an opposition voice, but was accused by its detractors of aiming to topple President Hugo Chavez.

Despite the furore over the move, Communications Minister William Lara saw a positive future for private TV.

In comments carried by the official news agency, he said the medium would have "good health and a good life".

He added that there were no plans to nationalise the broadcasting spectrum or to force stations off the air.

No censorship

Former Vice-President Jose Vicente Rangel said Venezuela was enjoying its highest-ever level of freedom of expression: "Reporters are not censored here, and neither is pressure exerted on media outlets."

National Assembly leader Cilia Flores, speaking at the launch of RCTV's successor, state-run TVES, hailed a new era: "At last, the monopoly of information and the dictatorship of media outlets will be a thing of the past."

But she warned that a "destabilisation plan" was being hatched in the US city of Miami.

However, opposition politician Alejandro Vivas said the move had been political.

"President Chavez does not want the media to carry news about what is happening in Venezuela... the state-run channel does not even refer to crime, unemployment, and the housing deficit," he said.

Attack on freedom

Similar sentiments emerged in the Latin American press. Colombia's El Tiempo warned that the disappearance of RCTV "shows a dangerous totalitarian concept of the media."

It added that images of "the loquacious Chavez" had almost completely replaced the soap operas that were once staple fare on Venezuelan TV.

"All of this paints a bleak picture of freedom of the press, increasingly suffocated by Chavez's pugnacious caudillo-style leadership and his stated goal of remaining in power indefinitely," the paper said.

Brazil's O Estado de Sao Paulo said RCTV was paying the price for its independence.

"Other private radio and TV broadcasters reached good terms with Colonel Chavez years ago and so they are left alone."


Brazilian daily Folha de Sao Paulo noted that Chavez had eliminated any possibility of his administration being criticised on national TV.

"Gradually but unmistakably, Chavez is climbing towards authoritarianism," it added.

Ecuador's El Comercio noted that in losing RCTV, viewers - including supporters and opponents of Chavez - were the victims. The paper called for a solution that would "allow people to entertain themselves with a soap opera, instead of boring them with the twists and turns of 21st century socialism".

Venezuelan journalist and prominent Chavez critic Teodoro Petkoff, interviewed by Brazil's Folha de Sao Paulo, said he saw signs of a grand plan: "Chavez knows that the role of TV is much more important than that of any other medium. He is working to create a media hegemony."

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