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Tuesday, 10 December, 2002, 22:19 GMT
Venezuelan media the focus of protests
President Chavez's supporters
Chavez supporters voice anger at opposition media
The decision by the Venezuelan president's supporters and opponents to attack each other's media outlets highlights the key role played by the media in the ongoing crisis.

Mr Chavez's opponents were reported to have fired shots at the building of state-run Venezolana de Television in Caracas on Monday.

Opposition demonstrators
Opposition spporters are equally vociferous

At the same time, his supporters surrounded the offices of private television channel Globovision in the western state of Zulia, seen as staunchly opposed to the leftist-populist president, well into the small hours of Tuesday.

They chanted "Shut it down!" and "Tell the truth!" and waved Venezuelan flags while some spray-painted the building's walls.

Media under pressure

Globovision showed live coverage of the protest. It then showed Interior and Justice Minister Diosdado Cabello, who accused opposition leaders of urging people to stage a rebellion irresponsibly. He added that the president "has no plans to resign."

Demonstrators also surrounded several radio and TV stations in the capital as well as many regional television stations in various parts of the country. They also protested against a newspaper in Maracay, southwest of the capital.

Secretary-General of the Organisation of American States, Cesar Gaviria, who is in Venezuela to mediate talks between the government and opposition, denounced the protests as a grave risk to "freedom of expression in Venezuela".

These actions harm Venezuelan democracy

Cesar Gavirira

He appealed to the media to help with "the task of preventing an upsurge of certain actions and not allow excitement to gain the upper hand over good judgment and the wishes of all Venezuelans".

Mr Gaviria also urged the authorities "to protect the media of the two sectors" promptly, and political leaders to convince their followers that "these actions harm Venezuelan democracy".

Press united

Over the last few months media watchdogs have been highly-critical of both the behaviour of the Venezuelan media and of President Chavez's attitudes towards broadcasters and the press.

The president has been accused of creating a hostile and intimidatory climate for journalists, while some major media outlets have been criticised for playing a direct role in the opposition movement against him.

Even before the failed coup of April 2002, Mr Chavez's relations with the media were poor. He described many of the media outlets as "pathetic" and accused them of orchestrating a campaign against his government.

Venezuela's press is lined up against the president and is overwhelmingly anti-government.

Poster of President Chavez
Chavez: Incites strong passions

Centre-left El Nacional believes that "in an hour of such gravity, there is no doubt that the resignation of the president of the republic is the best solution for all Venezuelans".

President Chavez has his own weekly phone-in programme on state-run Radio Nacional de Venezuela.

He has intensified his long-standing feud with the middle-class oriented mainstream media by accusing them, especially privately owned television stations, of trying to destabilise the country and plotting to harm him.

Chavez weighs in

In his 8 December weekly phone-in programme, Mr Chavez said the media campaign against him "must be stopped" and warned that as head of state felt obliged to "solve this problem".

He accused four private stations of using "bloody terrorist methods" to foment instability, noting that the right to information is one thing, but "conspiracy and terror through the media" is another.

Time is up; what we need now is action

El Universal

In response, El Nacional on Monday said that Mr Chavez's "six hours of tireless monologue" on his 8 December radio programme misrepresented the national situation, while private television "broadcast live and on the scene the true Venezuelan reality".

"The heavy-handedness of the government and president in confronting the crisis, which has shaken the country over the past four volatile years is approaching its climax and threatens to reach unpredictable extremes," said the paper.

The president criticised private television for showing his picture alongside footage of the dead and wounded from the 6 December shooting at Altamira Square as a "subliminal message" to incite an attempt on his life.

In response, on Monday right-leaning El Universal commented that everyone knows the military "must force the decision" to oust Mr Chavez and asked whether it is waiting for "more deaths." It concluded "time is up; what we need now is action."

El Nacional on the same day prominently featured an emotional appeal by Mr Chavez's wife, asking the president to respond to the popular will. She expressed disagreement with the way his government is handling the crisis and begged, "President, in the name of your daughter, your family and the country, I ask that you listen to the people."

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

Key stories


See also:

10 Dec 02 | Americas
10 Dec 02 | Americas
08 Dec 02 | Americas
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