Rights groups condemn crackdown on Venezuela TV

January 12, 2013 - 3:32 PM

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Rights groups are condemning an order by Venezuela's broadcast agency for a television channel to stop showing clips that question the legality of postponing President Hugo Chavez's inauguration.

The organizations Human Rights Watch and Reporters Without Borders criticized the government's actions against the country's only staunchly anti-Chavez channel, Globovision.

U.S.-based Human Rights Watch said in a statement on Saturday that the Venezuelan government is attempting to censor critical public discussions and intimidate its critics.

Globovision had been showing clips in which it replayed remarks by Chavez, Vice President Nicolas Maduro, and Venezuela's attorney general.

In them, the channel questioned the constitutionality of putting off the ailing president's scheduled Jan. 10 inauguration for a new term while he remains in Cuba more than a month after undergoing cancer surgery. The opposition had also opposed such a delay, but the Supreme Court ruled that Chavez can be sworn in later on.

The National Telecommunications Council on Wednesday opened an investigation aimed at imposing sanctions against Globovision. Pedro Maldonado, the agency's director, said that the channel had manipulated information and that it's illegal for TV stations to show programming that "generates anxiety in the citizenry or disturbs public order."

It's the eighth such investigation that the regulatory agency has opened against Globovision in recent years. Maldonado said the news channel could face sanctions including being shut down for 72 hours or being fined up to 10 percent of its annual gross income.

Reporters Without Borders called the measures against Globovision excessive.

"Is debate not allowed?" the organization said in a statement on Friday. "These proceedings are disproportionate and absurd."

Jose Miguel Vivanco, the Americas director for Human Rights Watch, said "there is nothing in the content of Globovision's broadcasts that could remotely be described as incitement or a threat to public order."

Venezuela's opposition has similarly called for the government to stop such measures against critical news media.

In June, Globovision paid a fine of more than $2 million imposed by regulators in another investigation.

Human Rights Watch also criticized a Jan. 6 raid by Venezuelan intelligence agents on the home of a blogger suspected of posting messages on Twitter questioning the information provided by the government about Chavez's condition.

The blogger, Federico Medina Ravell, is a cousin of Alberto Federico Ravell, a former news director of Globovision.

Isabel Grisanti, a lawyer who is a friend of Medina's family, said the agents came to the home in the city of Valencia with a court order to search the house in an investigation relating to weapons possession and alleged computer-related crimes.

Grisanti said she didn't know why the raid was carried out, but Venezuelan media have reported that the authorities were going after people posting Twitter messages about Chavez's condition, which the government describes as delicate while the president fights a severe respiratory infection.

Medina wasn't home at the time. The agents found no weapons in the home but did seize two computers, Grisanti said.