The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) today warned that plans by the Venezuelan government of Hugo Chavez to close down a television channel staunchly critical of the President while reinforcing the government’s influence and control over more than 200 media outlets is potentially a “catastrophe for pluralism and social rights.”
The IFJ says that government plans to shut Radio Caracas Television, Channel Two, in May when its current licence runs out will mean job losses for around 2,000 workers directly or indirectly affected. RCTV is one of the country's oldest channels and began broadcasting in 1953.
“This closure, coming at a time when government is tightening its grip on the country’s means of communications, has all the potential to become a catastrophe for pluralism and social rights,” said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary.
President Hugo Chavez accuses the network, and other independent media, of involvement in the failed attempt to overthrow his government in April 2002. RCTV and others played a highly controversial role in these events – leading to protests and criticism, which the IFJ itself endorsed in its report Missing Link in Venezuela’s Political Crisis (2002). Later, as the coup began to falter, the station ignored evidence of thousands of demonstrators taking to the streets in support of Chavez, and, instead, switched from 24-hour news coverage to the broadcast of old cartoons and films.
“No network has an automatic right to continue, particularly if it is in serious breach of its professional mandate,” said White. “But media must be subject to transparent and independent regulation – not Presidential diktat. The government’s action adds to fears that this is an act of revenge within a policy of tightening control of the country’s media.”
The IFJ is backing concerns expressed by its Venezuelan affiliate the Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de la Prensa which warns that the threat comes after the purchase of the formerly independent CMT channel by the government owned Telesur network and the loss of 150 media staff, and strengthening government influence on media.
“Venezuelan media are trapped in a vice of polarized opinion by opposition and government,” said White. “It is a process that is squeezing the life out of democracy. The latest government actions only add to the crisis caused by the absence of free and independent voices.”
The IFJ says that not least of their concerns is the human cost of the closure of RCTV. “There has been no warning or consultation with the workforce which suggests that the closure of RCTV, without independent scrutiny of its actions, will be a disaster both for democracy and for the people involved,” said White.
Contact the IFJ at 32 2 235 2207
The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in more than 100 countries worldwide