IAPA calls on Inter American Court to sentence Venezuela over TV network’s 2007 shutdown

By Alejandro Martínez

The Inter American Press Association (IAPA) called on the Inter American Court of Human Rights to sentence the Venezuelan government for having unlawfully shut down TV network RCTV in 2007.

That year, the government of then President Hugo Chávez did not renew RCTV's broadcasting license –  one of the most popular networks in the country – in reprisal to its critical editorial line.

In an amicus curiae brief, IAPA's president Elizabeth Ballantine called on the court to "to rule against the Venezuelan government’s decision to halt RCTV’s license and retaliate against it for its editorial stance- a flagrant violation of the principles of freedom of expression established in the American Convention."

According to IAPA, the shutdown of RCTV was the end result of a long campaign held by the Venezuelan government against the station, which officials described as "fascist," an instigator for "civil war" and a promoter of civil unrest. Back then, the government also decided arbitrarily which broadcasting licenses to renew, without establishing a clear protocol, IAPA added.

Authorities also seized the network's property and broadcasting equipment, which they used shortly after to open a new public station, Televisora Venezolana Social (TVes). The channel continues to air to this day using RCTV's old frequency.

IAPA described the shutdown of RCTV and the seizure of its property as part of the Venezuelan government's "goal of communications hegemony." According to the organization, by early 2012, the government had consolidated a network of state and supportive media outlets composed by three newspapers and six TV channels at the national level, and 400 radio stations, 35 TV channels and almost 100 newspapers at the regional level.

The relationship between critical media in Venezuela and the government of deceased President Hugo Chávez was characterized by constant tensions and accusations of abuse of power, which have continued after his death.

Recently, several newspapers in the country have accused the government of preventing them from importing newsprint, which has led to size reductions in their editions and in some cases to closure.

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.