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Government could make RCTV unavailable by cable on 1 August

(RSF/IFEX) - Ten days after the embattled Venezuelan broadcaster RCTV, now called RCTV Internacional, resumed broadcasting via cable and satellite on 16 July 2007, a new threat emerged that could result in its being removed from cable service distribution by 1 August. The government stripped RCTV of its terrestrial broadcast licence on 27 May.

Mario Seijas, president of the Venezuelan Chamber of Subscription Television, said on 26 July that RCTV Internacional had five days to register as a national broadcaster under a provision of the National Commission for Telecommunications (CONATEL) that was introduced by the Radio and TV Social Responsibility Law of 2004.

This provision in theory requires any broadcaster operating in Venezuela to be formally registered as a "national broadcasting producer." The authorities have said that if RCTV Internacional does not comply, its programming will cease to be available by cable on 1 August.

RCTV Internacional responded with a statement disputing that it has to register as a national broadcaster. Legally, it said, RCTV Internacional is "an international TV station producing programmes to be broadcast worldwide, just like Telesur, Warner, HBO, Sony, History Channel, Sunchannel, E! Entertainment Television and A&E Mundo." The stations cited are all available by cable in Venezuela.

Currently available by cable and satellite in Venezuela, Trinidad and Tobago and part of the Netherlands Antilles, RCTV Internacional is going after international Spanish-speaking viewers, not only in Latin America but also in the United States and Europe.

RCTV said in its statement that it was seeking the same treatment as Telesur regarding the system of "cadenas," in which privately-owned broadcasters are required to simultaneously retransmit the president's speeches and other government messages when they are broadcast by the state media. A public TV station which gets most of its funding from the Venezuelan government and which broadcasts terrestrially and by cable, Telesur has been exempted from the "cadena" system for its cable broadcasts.

The day after RCTV resumed cable and satellite broadcasting, the Venezuelan authorities said the law would be amended in order to extend the "cadena" system to privately-owned cable and satellite broadcasters as well as terrestrial broadcasters.

"Assuming RCTV does have to register as a 'national broadcast producer,' why did the Venezuelan authorities wait 10 days to notify the station of this, leaving it just five days to complete the formalities," Reporters Without Borders asked. "Why was this question not raised immediately? Finally, and above all, why did this issue emerge at the very moment that RCTV was returning to the screen via cable and satellite?"

The press freedom organisation added: "The other international cable stations have never had to submit to this requirement. The government's intentions are all too obvious. This is another attempt at censorship. The government always denied that it was closing down RCTV when it terminated its terrestrial broadcasting. But what else will it have done if it now makes RCTV unavailable by cable?"

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