Source: Winnipeg Free Press
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
CARACAS, Venezuela - A cable television channel critical of President Hugo Chavez was yanked from the airwaves early Sunday for defying new regulations requiring it to televise the socialist leader's speeches.
Venezuelan cable television providers stopped transmitting Radio Caracas Television, an anti-Chavez channel known as RCTV, because it did not broadcast Chavez's speech Saturday to a rally of political supporters.
"They must comply with the law, and they cannot have a single channel that violates Venezuelan laws as part of their programming," Diosdado Cabello, director of Venezuela's state-run telecommunications agency, said Saturday.
The agency "doesn't have any authority to give the cable service providers this order," RCTV said in a statement. "The government is inappropriately pressuring them to make decisions beyond their responsibilities."
The new broadcasting laws were approved last month by the telecommunications agency.
The move, decried by the U.S. embassy, journalism groups and viewers, comes as Chavez is confronting domestic problems, including a recession, soaring inflation and electricity shortages. He already is campaigning against an emboldened opposition to keep control of the National Assembly in September elections.
In Caracas neighbourhoods, Chavez opponents leaned out apartment windows to bang on pots and pans. Others shouted epithets and drivers joined in, honking car horns.
"They want to silence RCTV's voice," said Miguel Angel Rodriguez, the channel's most popular talk show host. "But they won't be able to because RCTV is embedded in the hearts of all Venezuelans."
Roger Santodomingo, the national journalists' association secretary-general, called it a violation of human rights, freedom of speech and democratic norms. The U.S. Embassy also saw cause for concern.
"Access to information is a cornerstone of democracy and provides a foundation for global progress. By restricting yet again the Venezuelan people's access to RCTV broadcasts, the Venezuelan government continues to erode this cornerstone," U.S. Embassy spokeswoman Robin Holzhauer said.
RCTV switched to cable and satellite television in 2007 after the government refused to renew its over-the-air license, accusing the station of plotting against Chavez and supporting a failed 2002 coup.
The state-run Bolivarian News Agency said the suspension involved a total of four stations, which can still return to the air if they decide to comply with the new regulations.
Cabello said there were other violations committed by cable channels, include failing to warn viewers of sexual and violent content and broadcasting more than two hours of soap operas during the afternoon, which should be mostly dedicated to children programming.
Government figures say about 37 per cent of Venezuelan homes received cable television in 2008. But some private companies say their research shows about six out of every 10 households have subscription TV service.
In August, Chavez's government forced 32 radio stations and two small TV stations off the air, saying some owners had failed to renew their broadcast licenses, while other licenses were no longer valid because they had been granted long ago to owners who are now dead.
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