Venezuela Cracks Down on ‘Media Terrorism’

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/jul/10/venezuela-media-chavez

Government revokes over 200 radio licences and forces television channels to broadcast many of Chávez's speeches

Rory Carroll in Caracas guardian.co.uk, Friday 10 July 2009 18.26 BST Article historyVenezuela's government has revoked the licences of more than 200 radio stations and forced satellite and cable television to broadcast many of President Hugo Chávez's speeches live.

The government said the new regulations would deepen the country's socialist revolution and combat "media terrorism" by privately owned networks. Critics said they were an attack on free speech.

Terrestrial TV channels have long been obliged to interrupt regular programming to transmit Chávez's speeches - they can last more than four hours - when he declares what is known as a "cadena".

Even many of his supporters would switch to satellite and cable to continue watching baseball or soap operas but under the new regulations, which came into effect today, those channels must also switch to Chávez if more than 70% of their content is produced within Venezuela.

The measure will affect RCTV, a vocal critic of the president which relaunched as a subscription network after its public licence was not renewed in 2007. It supported a brief coup against the president in 2002.

The government also said it was shifting 154 FM and 86 AM radio stations into public hands to "democratise" the airwaves. "The use of the radio-electric spectrum is one of the few areas where the revolution has not been felt," said Diosdado Cabello, head of the telecommunications agency. The stations, almost 40% of the country's total, had not updated their registrations, said Cabello.

The government also banned networks owning more than stations to break up what it said were "media latifundios", a reference to large, privately-owned estates. Venezuela's radio chamber said the regulations attacked freedom of expression and violated the constitution.

Since coming to power a decade ago Chávez, a fiery leftist and gifted communicator, has greatly expanded the state's media empire to challenge strident anti-government coverage in privately-owned media.