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Supreme Court provides temporary reprieve for RCTV's cable broadcasting, will hear petition

(RSF/IFEX) - RCTV Internacional was able to continue broadcasting by cable beyond a government deadline set for 1 August 2007 thanks to an 11th hour reprieve in the form of a decision by the Supreme Court that it was prepared to hear a petition from the Venezuelan Chamber of Subscription Television (Cavetesu) about the status of cable and satellite TV stations.

Barred from continuing terrestrial broadcasting on 27 May, RCTV Internacional had resumed broadcasting on three cable channels and two satellite channels on 16 July. Although it has its headquarters outside the country and broadcasts abroad as well as in Venezuela, the government immediately responded that, if it did not register as a "national audiovisual producer," it would be barred from cable and satellite broadcasting as well.

The deadline set by the government was midnight on 1 August, which allowed RCTV Internacional just five days to complete all the formalities.

No other cable station had ever before been required to register as a "national audiovisual producer." Cavetesu chairman Mario Seíjas pointed this out on 28 July, saying none of the 40 pay-TV channels had any registered status, national or international. The Cavetesu then petitioned the Supreme Court's constitutional section for clear rules on the rights and duties of national and international cable and satellite broadcasters in Venezuela.

Seíjas had previously asked the government to hold urgent negotiations with the cable stations, including RCTV Internacional, but had not received a response.

The Supreme Court has not yet issued a ruling on the substance of the petition. RCTV Internacional chairman Marcel Granier told the Caracas-based TV news channel Globovisión that he regarded the Supreme Court's decision as a "political measure" and that in his view, the government was just using the court to "win time."

"Granier's suspicions are not completely unfounded," Reporters Without Borders said. "There is no reason to think that RCTV Internacional will be able to continue broadcasting. Nonetheless, we hail Seíjas' initiative to petition the court, and we hail the court's ruling, albeit very provisional."

The press freedom organisation added: "This should be the moment for a real legal debate and maybe even an attempt at dialogue between the government and RCTV Internacional. And we hope that this will lead to clear and fair rules that will ensure pluralism throughout the media, not just for cable and satellite broadcasting."

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