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Telecommunications commission begins legal proceedings against Globovisión television station for allegedly violating electoral law

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Border deplores the legal irregularity and purely political intent of a 27 November 2008 administrative move against the privately owned Globovisión television station for allegedly violating the country's electoral law. The organisation said the move was clearly an attempt to cancel the station's broadcasting licence.

"Globovisión did nothing wrong by broadcasting a speech by a candidate for office who was claiming he had won," the worldwide press freedom organisation said. "The television station did not say he had won and was simply doing its job of reporting. The National Elections Council (Consejo Nacional Electoral, CNE) said no rule had been broken. Why have none of the other media outlets which may have filmed the same footage been targeted? It seems anything goes in efforts to cancel the licence of a station that has criticised the government."

At President Hugo Chávez' request, the National Telecommunications Commission (Comisión Nacional de Telecomunicaciones, CONATEL) told Globovisión on 27 November that action was being taken against it for breaking the electoral law, which bans media outlets from giving out election results before they are officially announced by the CNE. The 2004 law on social responsibility in television and radio broadcasting (Ley de Responsabilidad Social de Radio y Televisión) provides for a broadcasting suspension of up to three days for this infraction and immediate licence cancellation if the infraction is repeated. Globovisión's licence is due to expire in 2013.

The CNE announced the results of regional elections at midnight on 24 November, except those in Carabobo and Táchira states, where opposition candidates Henrique Salas Feo and César Pérez Vivas won the governorships. Globovisión, along with other media outlets, then broadcast in the early hours a statement in which Salas Feo said that he had won. The two victories were confirmed a few hours later by the CNE.

Before the elections, Chávez had issued a warning that he would cancel the licences of radio and television stations, including those run by the government, if they announced election results in advance. The day after the 23 November vote, the president said he had given orders to CONATEL concerning a "privately-owned television station" which he did not name.

Globovisión's lawyer said CONATEL had no power to punish a media outlet for an offence relating to elections coverage. Only the CNE could do this, and one of its members, Vicente Diaz, questioned the validity of the accusation against Globovisión, saying the pre-result ban only applied until the first announcement of official results. Globovisión complied with this stipulation by not broadcasting Salas Feo's statement until two hours after the official results announcement.

Globovisión is also being targeted for a remark broadcast on 13 October on its "Aló Ciudadano" programme in which opposition figure Rafael Poleo said that Chávez "could end up like Mussolini". He was reproached for saying this by the programme's presenter, Leopoldo Castillo. The government immediately called it "a plan to assassinate the president." The 2004 law on social responsibility in television and radio broadcasting, however, says that in the case of "independent programmes", such as "Aló Ciudadano", the media outlet is not responsible for their content (article 28).

Globovisión is the only non-satellite news station that criticises Chávez and has never been able to get a licence to broadcast outside the capital. Its main offices were recently attacked by pro-government activists and its head, Alberto Federico Ravell, is regularly accused by the government of "conspiring" against the president.

Updates alert calling on government to ensure free reporting during election period:

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