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TV stations shut down for refusing to air President's speeches

The Venezuelan government ordered cable networks to stop carrying six TV stations on 24 January after the stations failed to air speeches by President Hugo Chávez, report IFEX members. Protests have erupted over the recent press freedom violations.

The National Telecommunications Commission (CONATEL) recently targeted 24 TV stations, demanding they broadcast official messages from the President, called cadenas, report Instituto Prensa y Sociedad (IPYS), the Inter American Press Association (IAPA) and other IFEX members. The cadenas violate the right of independent media to decide on its own content, says Reporters Without Borders (RSF). Chávez's speeches can last for hours.

Six stations refused to air the speeches, including RCTV Internacional, the most popular station in Venezuela, report the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and other IFEX members. The director of CONATEL then told cable television operators that if they did not stop broadcasting RCTV they would face sanctions, says IPYS. RCTV is known for its critical coverage of the President and his government.

Government regulators say that RCTV is a national broadcaster and must comply with broadcasting laws and carry government programming when officials decide it is required, report IFEX members.

But RCTV Internacional argues that its scope is international and that it should not have to obey this order. It has functioned as a paid subscription channel since July 2007, after the Venezuelan government removed it from public airwaves, report IFEX members.

According to the International Press Institute (IPI), "RCTV has already been targeted in the past because of its critical reporting. Saturday's decision to order cable networks to stop broadcasting it fits in with a pattern of free media oppression in Venezuela that shows no signs of ending." In 2007, Chávez accused RCTV of supporting a coup that briefly ousted him, says IPI.

On 21 January, the director of CONATEL ordered legal proceedings against RCTV journalist Miguel Ángel Rodríguez for "inciting a coup" linked to an interview he did, reports RSF. A conviction would permit the permanent closure of RCTV Internacional.

In August 2009, 32 radio stations and two small television stations were shut down, along with another 29 radio stations in September 2009, reports ARTICLE 19.

One student was killed on 25 January during protests against the suspensions of the six TV stations, reports IPI.

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