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Media owners cancel programmes after being pressured by local authorities, journalist Carlos Sulbarán resigns from his position; photographer Orlando Alviárez harassed, his camera seized

(IPYS/IFEX) - During the first week of January 2009, three media programmes were cancelled, two by the Telellano television station and one by Paraíso Stereo 102.9 FM. The owners of the two media outlets, both of which belong to the same group of companies in Barinas state, western Venezuela, said that the decision to close the programmes came as a result of pressure from the local authorities, led by Governor Adán Chávez.

The cancelled programmes are: Francisco Aguilar's "En Pauta", Tarquino Gonzáles's and Carolina Avendaño's "En Tres y Dos es Noticia", both broadcast by Telellano, and Paraíso Stereo 102.9 FM's "En Pauta en Radio".

Telellano journalist Carlos Sulbarán, who resigned from the television station in January, noted that six reports prepared by him about political issues linked to the governor had been censored. Francisco Aguilar told IPYS that the cancellation of the Telellano programmes means that the television station no longer has any broadcast slots dedicated to political opinion programmes.

Gonzáles said that one of the Telellano owners told him that his programme would be taken off the air for "reprogramming". The owner in question later confessed, however, that they had been subjected to pressure from the regional government.

A source consulted by IPYS, who preferred to remain anonymous, said that at both the television and radio station, coverage of topics that could affect the government's image is not allowed. Nor are journalists allowed to interview Julio César Reyes or Wilmer Azuaje, both of whom are former opposition candidates for political office.

IPYS attempted, without success, to contact one of the owners of the media outlets. The organisation expresses its concern over the effect that government pressure can have on freedom of expression.

In a separate incident, on 30 January, unidentified individuals harassed and chased Orlando Alviárez, a photographer for the daily "Últimas Noticias", then seized his camera as he was covering a story on the kidnapping of Metropolitan Council Culture Secretary Víctor Carrillo. The kidnapping was allegedly carried out in January by members of the pro-government group known as "La Piedrita".
The incident took place when Alviárez approached a booth outside the Caracas Prefect's Office to inquire about the case. A group of people were gathered at the booth and, when Alviárez identified himself as a journalist, an unidentified man grabbed his press credentials and camera. Alviárez attempted to leave the area but the man, at that point aided by another man, chased and threatened him.

Finally, Alviárez's assailants entered the Prefect's Office with his camera. He followed them into the building in order to recover it. Once inside, another man dressed in civilian clothes, but who identified himself as a sergeant, interceded and the camera was returned to Alviárez.

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