Chávez takes aim at TV channel

Globovision, a critic of Venezuela leader, is at risk of closure.

By Tyler Bridges – Miami Herald
Published 12:00 am PDT Friday, March 21, 2008

CARACAS, Venezuela – President Hugo Chávez is trying to whip up public support to close down Globovision, the remaining Venezuelan television channel critical of his administration.Chávez has called Globovision “an enemy of the Venezuelan people,” and fervent government supporters want the national tax office to investigate the station. Hundreds of them rallied outside of Globovision last month.

The threats against Globovision come less than a year after Chávez knocked RCTV, the country’s most popular television station, off the commercial airwaves. RCTV had broadcast unflattering news coverage of Chávez for years.

Alberto Ravell, a Globovision part owner who runs the 24-hour news channel, has come under personal attack.

“Ravell: Fascist, coup plotter, murderer, liar,” read signs held by Chávez supporters at one of the president’s speeches late last year.

Outside observers say that silencing Globovision would give the president near-complete control over television news coverage. An iconoclastic view holds that Chávez won’t touch Globovision because he needs the station as a foil.

The tension between the news station and Chávez comes as the leftist president appears to have lost some of his popular support.

The pollster Datos, in a quarterly survey of 2,000 Venezuelans last month, found that some 34 percent said they support Chávez’s government, down from a high of 67 percent in early 2005, and the lowest level since 2003, the Associated Press reported.

Another survey, by Venezuelan pollster Alfredo Keller, found that 37 percent of Venezuelans queried identified themselves as Chávez supporters in February, down from 50 percent in mid-2007, AP reported.

Still, the threats have prompted the Miami-based Inter American Press Association to express its concern.

“It would be disastrous for the people and their right to know if (Globovision) were to cease operations,” said Gonzalo Marroquín, editor of the Guatemala City daily Prensa Libre and chairman of the press association’s Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information.

The group will hold its midyear meeting in Caracas at the end of March, and its leaders are hoping to take their concerns directly to Chávez.

For his part, Ravell doesn’t believe that Chávez will risk trying to close the station.

“We’re kind of a trophy for the government to say that there is freedom of expression in Venezuela,” Ravell said in his office.

Still, he fears that a 3-year-old measure – known as the Law of Social Responsibility in Radio and Television – is vague enough to give the government the basis to attempt to do so.

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