Anti-Chávez channel removed from airwaves

Employees of the Radio Caracas Television stood outside of the channel offices in Caracas yesterday. Employees of the Radio Caracas Television stood outside of the channel offices in Caracas yesterday. (Fernando Llano/ Associated Press)
Associated Press / January 25, 2010

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CARACAS - A cable television channel critical of President Hugo Chávez was yanked from the air early yesterday for defying new government regulations requiring it to televise some of the socialist leader’s speeches.

Venezuelan cable and satellite TV providers stopped transmitting Radio Caracas Television, an anti-Chávez channel known as RCTV, after it did not broadcast Chávez’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 telecommunications 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.’’

RCTV switched to cable in 2007 after the government refused to renew its license for regular airwaves. Chávez accused the station of plotting against him and supporting a failed 2002 coup.

Under the new rules, two dozen local cable channels, including RCTV, must carry government programming when officials deem it necessary, just as channels on the open airwaves already do.

Chávez regularly uses that legal power to force the country’s broadcast TV and radio stations to carry his marathon speeches, which can last up to seven hours.

The changes, decried by the opposition, journalism groups and viewers, come as Chávez is confronting domestic problems - including a recession, soaring inflation and electricity shortages.