Television station's equipment confiscated; CONATEL headquarters attacked
"These two events are extremely worrisome and demonstrate the fragility of press freedom as the country approaches an electoral period," RSF Secretary-General Robert Ménard said.
Ménard said, "Without taking a position on the violations allegedly committed by Globovisión, our organisation can only condemn a decision which considerably limits a television station's ability to report the news."
The organisation also asked Attorney General Isaias Rodríguez to keep it informed of progress in the investigation into the grenade attack on CONATEL on the night of 3 October. "RSF has often condemned CONATEL's decisions as a danger to press freedom, but it cannot accept the use of violence to silence either news media or a state agency," it said.
The equipment removed by CONATEL officials from Globovisión's roof and from two hilltop sites above Caracas on 3 October allowed the station to carry live broadcasts from locations outside its studios. CONATEL director Alvin Lezama said the equipment was taken away because of indications that Globovisión was using frequencies that had not been authorised by CONATEL.
Infrastructure Minister Diosdado Cabello said, "This is an administrative procedure. Globovisión is still able to function. We have not touched its programming." President Hugo Chávez, for his part, said, "The permissive Chávez is over. We are and will continue to be vigilant regarding any excesses, especially by the news media, and we will apply the law whenever necessary."
Globovisión director Alberto Federico Ravell called the equipment confiscation "an attack on freedom of expression" and said that, as the station could no longer cover what was happening on the streets, it was now operating at only half of its capacity. The seizure was a step towards sanctioning other television stations critical of the president, he added. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has called for CONATEL's actions against the station to be suspended and for the equipment to be returned pending a resolution of the complaint.
The grenade attack on CONATEL headquarters during the night of 3 October caused damages to the building but no injuries. Information Minister Jesse Chacón, a former CONATEL director, said, "Two men on a white motorcycle threw the grenade and then fled." Chacón believes the attack was in response to CONATEL's confiscation of Globovisión's equipment. Before the attack, there had been a violent protest outside CONATEL headquarters, which police dispersed.
Globovisión and the other three most important commercial television stations in Venezuela - RCTV, Televén and Venevisión - have been dubbed the "Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse" by President Chávez because of their criticism of his government.
In January and February, the four television stations, in addition to a regional station, Televisión Regional de Táchira (TRT), were told they were the subject of an administrative investigation because of their coverage of the opposition general strike in December 2002 and January 2003 (see IFEX alerts of 11 June, 23 May, 14 March, 6 and 4 February, 27, 24, 23 and 15 January 2003). The infrastructure minister will have the final say in the investigation, and depending on his decision, the television station's could be fined, their programmes could be suspended or their licences could be rescinded.
Meanwhile, from 31 October to 3 November, the opposition will attempt to collect more than 2 million signatures calling for a referendum to force President Chávez to resign.