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CONATEL opens fourth case against Globovisión television station

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders fears that the Caracas-based TV broadcaster Globovisión could be stripped of its terrestrial broadcasting frequency as a result of proceedings initiated against the station on 16 June 2009 and a supreme court ruling two days later that the station could be convicted by a criminal prosecution, a legal prerequisite for the withdrawal of its frequency.

"President Hugo Chávez recently warned that Globovisión could be taken off the air if it did not change its editorial practices and he is pressing government officials and the courts to do this," Reporters Without Borders said. "He called it a 'public health problem' but the cure is worse than the disease."

Reporters Without Borders continued, "The withdrawal of Globovisión's frequency would be the culmination of a legally questionable campaign of harassment of the station over its content. The fact that the station is not beyond reproach does not detract from the gravity of this campaign. It is not democratic if a news media's future can be decided on the president's whim."

"If President Chávez gets rid of Globovisión, the only terrestrial TV stations left will be those that support him," Reporters Without Borders added. "This will be a blow to media diversity and debate. The opposition could be radicalised if it is deprived of media that convey its views."

The administrative proceedings which the National Telecommunications Commission (Comisión Nacional de Telecomunicaciones, CONATEL) initiated against Globovisión on 16 June were its fourth such proceedings. The three previous ones were based on the 2004 Radio and TV Social Responsibility Law and could have resulted in the station being taken off the air for up to 72 hours.

The latest one is based on article 171 of the Telecommunications Basic Law of 2000, which says that a TV station's licence can be rescinded if the station is used "to help commit crimes."

Globovisión is accused of "helping to commit a crime" in its programme "Aló Ciudadano" on 13 October 2008, when a guest, well-known Chávez critic Rafael Poleo, editor of the daily "El Nuevo País" and the magazine "Zeta", said on the air that the president could "end up like Mussolini", even though the programme presenter, Leopoldo Castillo, warned him he should not say so (see link: President Chávez and his supporters insisted that Poleo's comment constituted "incitement to a crime against the president."

The station responded that it could not be held responsible for what a guest says. Globovisión lawyer Ana Cristina Nuñez also pointed out that there was legal impediment to a criminal conviction of Globovisión, which would have to take place before it could be stripped of its frequency.

When the latest administrative proceedings were initiated against Globovisión, the prosecutor general's office was also asked to establish whether a crime was committed during the broadcast.

However, there was legal barrier to a possible conviction, namely an appeal which Globovisión submitted in 2003 challenging various provisions of the telecommunications law, including the possibility of bringing a criminal prosecution against the station. This barrier was lifted by the supreme court's 18 June decision rejecting the Globovisión appeal.

This prerequisite was not met when Radio Caracas Televisión (RCTV) was stripped of its terrestrial broadcast frequency in May 2007. The supreme court's 18 June ruling endorsed the principle of preventive censorship of the content of certain media by the government, saying it was "compatible with freedom of the press."

Globovisión was ordered on 5 June to pay a fine of 2.3 million dollars for relaying opposition messages during oil sector strikes in 2002 and 2003. The fine was increased to 4 million dollars on 16 June.

The government has meanwhile announced a review of all the radio and TV broadcast frequencies also in the cable sector. Globovisión's terrestrial broadcasting is currently limited to Caracas and the surrounding area. It could be allowed to continue broadcasting by cable, like RCTV.

Reporters Without Borders disapproves of Poleo's comments but believes that he, not Globovisión, is responsible for them.

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