Government official orders confiscation of Venezuelan TV station's equipment, blocks transmission signal during prison uprising

On Monday, April 30, during unrest at the La Planta prison, in Caracas, Venezuela, the country's minister of prison services, Iris Varela, told the state-run TV channel Venezuelana Televisión (VTV) that the private TV broadcaster Globovisión was spreading "malicious information" and an order was issued to seize the station's equipment and interrupt the channel's transmission, reported the National Association of Journalists (CNP in Spanish).

After Varela's statement, a member of the National Bolivarian Guard damaged the channel's vehicle that carried the transmission signal equipment and detained the private broadcaster's technicians and equipment for about an hour, reported the Venezuelan newspaper El Universal.

The situation began when prisoners attempted to escape by jumping the prison's roof, reported TVN Noticias. There was a revolt among the prisoners and shots were heard, said the news portal NTN 24. The police used tear gas to regain order. On April 27, Venezuelan authorities discovered that the prisoners had dug a tunnel to flee in a large group, reported the news agency Agência Lusa. Meanwhile, director of the NGO Window to Freedom, Carlos Nieto, said that what happened was a confrontation between rebellious prisoners and the police, reported the Associated Press.

At VTV, Varela said that the situation was under control and said Globovision was making "a show" out of what happened and said the channel was creating a violent situation. "This is a security area and we will not allow for a sensitive area to be the product of a crisscrossing of malicious information," said Varela to El Universal.

Although Varela said that the press was no longer allowed to enter the area, witnesses said that the VTV cameramen were allowed into La Planta prison, according to the portal La Patilla.

On Tuesday, May 1, the CNP released a statement rejecting Varela's attitude. The government minister's "attitude infringes on Venezuelans' rights to be informed of situations that are of public interest" and to be informed of information coming from a point of view different than that of the state's TV channel. The National Association of Journalists condemned Varela's insinuations that the prison situation was somehow Globovision's fault, said the CNP.

Globovisión maintains a conflictive relationship with the Venezuelan government, and has been targeted with several lawsuits in the past. Venezuela in general is known for frequent infringements on freedom of expression. In February of this year, four radio broadcasters were closed for operating without a license in the country. In March, journalists reported that 2011 was the worst year for the Venezuelan press.

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