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Television station's equipment confiscated

(IPYS/IFEX) - On 3 October 2003, National Telecommunications Commission (Comisión Nacional de Telecomunicaciones, CONATEL) authorities confiscated equipment belonging to Globovisión television station.

The authorities explained that they went to the television station to complete a "routine inspection" and then proceeded to confiscate the station's microwave frequency transmission equipment. The officials said that they were carrying out "a legally sanctioned administrative procedure." Equipment located at the El Volcán and Mecedores broadcasting stations in Ávila national park, north of Caracas, was also confiscated.

Globovisión General Manager Alberto Federico Ravell spoke out against the action, saying, "This is the first step toward the closure of a microwave frequency news television station."

Ravell noted that the way in which the seizure of the equipment was carried out was "illegal and abnormal" and held President Hugo Chávez responsible for the actions against the station.

Information and Communications Minister Jesse Chacón indicated that the actions were carried out because "Globovisión was using microwave frequencies illegally." He said the Telecommunications Law (Ley Orgánica de Telecomunicaciones) establishes that CONATEL, which operates under the Infrastructure Ministry and regulates the telecommunications sector in Venezuela, can implement preventive measures, such as the confiscation of equipment, in cases of illegal frequency use. "If they had not been using the spectrum illegally, CONATEL would not have been able to seize their equipment," he added.

Chacón, who was CONATEL's general manager until July, explained that authorisation is required for the use of specific frequencies and for transmission of microwave signals. "Nobody is denying the right of television or radio stations to use microwave frequencies, but they have to have the necessary permission. The issue is related to the management of the broadcasting spectrum," he said. He indicated that Globovisión's equipment will be returned when the television station goes through the process required to obtain authorisation for use of the frequency.

Globovisión broadcasts information 24 hours a day and has been operating for 10 years. In January, the Infrastructure Ministry launched an investigation into Globovisión for having broadcast political propaganda about the national "civic strike" in December 2002 and January 2003 (see IFEX alerts of 11 June, 23 May, 14 March, 27, 24, 23 and 15 January 2003). The strike, organised by the Chambers of Commerce Federation (Fedecámaras), the Venezuelan Workers Federation (Confederación de Trabajadores de Venezuela, CTV) and the opposition Democratic Coordinating Committee (Coordinadora Democrática), was aimed at forcing President Chávez to resign.

Despite the launch of the investigation against Globovisión and three other stations that oppose the government, this is the first time that Chávez government authorities have seized a television station's equipment.

According to Chacón, the process required for Globovisión to recuperate its equipment and obtain permission to use microwave frequencies could take 60 to 90 days to complete. In the meantime, Globovisión's operations will be affected since it will not be able to broadcast live from anywhere outside its studios.

"A station that is unable to use microwave frequencies is dead. We will have to see what we can do. Other stations have offered us their support," said Ravell.

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