Gov’t pressure leads opposition media in Venezuela to tone down criticism

  • By
  • January 31, 2011

By Ingrid Bachmann

Tension between the private media and the government of President Hugo Chávez is nothing new. However, U.S. diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks (cable 10CARACAS219) reveal that the conflict is now such that the U.S. ambassador in Caracas believes Chávez is “is close to his goal of 'domesticating' or eliminating the remaining free and independent media in Venezuela,” El País reports.

Chavéz’s offensive has operated on various fronts, including the courts and the selective use of government advertising money. According to the cables, many opposition media outlets have softened their criticism to guarantee their survival and to avoid sharing the fates of RCTV and Globovisión, both of which lost their broadcast licenses. The latter now has a cable channel, but its executives are considered fugitives of Venezuelan justice and Chávez is working to gain majority ownership of the network through any available means.

In a country that now has laws on the books that give the government the power to regulate internet and broadcast content, a media outlet’s fear of being shut down is justified. In 2009, the government shut down hundreds of radio stations for failing to update their information with the national telecom agency.

Openly opposed to Chávez and a symbol of the conflict between the media and the president, RCTV is working to get back on the air, AFP reports. According to BBC Mundo, the station will have to operate under the terms of the new strict media laws, which include having to broadcast government programming and Chávez’s sometimes marathon speeches.

The state-run Agencia Venezolana de Noticias reports that the channel has “finally pledged to follow the rules,” while at the same time it accuses RCTV’s president, Marcel Granier, of orchestrating a campaign from abroad to discredit Chávez and Venezuela.

Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.