On Friday, Feb. 17, a Venezuelan court began hearing the appeal of Globovisión to overturn a $2.1 million fine, according to the newspaper El Diario. The Globovisión television news agency has been critical of Hugo Chavez's government, and the fine was levied against the station in October of 2011 for its reporting.
The private television channel said that the accusations against it have not been proven and that it would not pay the fine until the court had made a decision, reported the newspaper El Universo, a publication which also is facing an exorbitant fine from a libel lawsuit filed by the Ecuadorian government.
The National Telecommunications Council (Conatel) ordered Globovisión to pay the fine, explaining that the channel had been sensationalist and biased in its coverage of a riot in the prison complex El Rodeo in June of 2011. The channel's representatives, however, say that they are being persecuted for their critical editorial stance.
According to the website Venezuela de Verdad, the president of the regulatory council, Pedro Maldonado, reprimanded Globovisión for refusing to pay the fine, which was overdue on Jan. 1. For Maldonado, Globovisión “is trying to distort a legitimate decision made by an independent institution," reported La Patilla.
Even though the trial is public, Globovisión journalists could not enter the room, and representatives from the National Union of Press Workers, the National Association of Journalists (CNP in Spanish) and the NGO Espacio Público also were forbidden entry, explained the news website Reporte Activo. Cameras and cellphones were also banned from the courtroom, according to Espacio Público.
Globovisión has a tense relationship with the government and faces various lawsuits that could destroy the channel. President Chávez often criticizes television media outlets and already has warned the channel to change its editorial stance.
The tension between the press and Chávez is nothing new. Media professionals have suffered "systematic" pressure from the government, through the use of government advertising to punish and reward media outlets, lawsuits against journalists, frequent attempts to broaden government control over the media, and license suspensions. Government supporters, on the other hand, say that private interests still control the Venezuelan media.