May 2007 RCTV protests

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Venezuelans rally in support of RCTV

The May – June 2007 RCTV protests were a series of protests in Venezuela that began in the middle of May 2007. The cause of the protests was the refusal by the government to renew the broadcasting license of Venezuela's oldest private television network, Radio Caracas Televisión (RCTV), instead creating a new public service channel called TVes which began operations on May 28, the same day RCTV's license expired. RCTV had Venezuela's largest viewing audience, with 10 million of the country's 26 million people viewing its shows and soap operas.[1]

Background[edit]

On April 11, 2002, supporters and opponents of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez clashed at the Miraflores Palace during a coup d'état attempt. According to BBC News, a sector of the Armed Forces asked for Chávez's resignation, holding him responsible for a massacre during the demonstrations.[2][3] Commander of the Army Lucas Rincón Romero reported in a nationwide broadcast that Chávez had resigned his presidency,[2] a charge Chávez would later deny. Chávez was taken to a military base while Fedecámaras president Pedro Carmona was appointed as the transitional President of Venezuela,[2] following mass protests and a general strike by his opponents.[4]

Carmona's first decree reversed the major social and economic policies that comprised Chávez's "Bolivarian Revolution", and dissolved both the National Assembly and the Venezuelan judiciary, while reverting the nation's name back to República de Venezuela.

Carmona's decrees were followed by pro-Chávez uprisings across Caracas. Responding to these disturbances, Venezuelan soldiers loyal to Chávez called for massive popular support for a counter-coup.[5] The military frustrated from not having received formal proof of Chavez's resignation withdrew their support of Carmona's presidency. Carmona's regime was toppled, and Chávez resumed his presidency on the night of Saturday, 13 April 2002.

Over the following months, and again in the wake of the 2002-03 lock-out and general strike, Chávez stepped up his criticism of the country's private media companies, accusing them of having supported the coup. On his weekly television program Aló Presidente and in other forums, he regularly referred to the leading private media owners as "coup plotters", "fascists", and "the four horsemen of the apocalypse".[6] He reminded them that their concessions operated at the pleasure of the state and that if they "went too far", their concessions could be canceled at any time.[7]

On December 28, 2006, President Chávez announced that the government would not renew RCTV's broadcast license which expired on May 27, 2007, thereby forcing the channel to cease operations on that day.[8] The Supreme Court of Justice (Tribunal Supremo de Justicia or TSJ)—controlled by Chávez allies[9]—ruled on April 17 that it is within the National Telecommunications Commission's power to decide on the issuing, renewal and revocation of broadcast licenses.[10]

The government maintains that the non-renewal is caused by RCTV's alleged support for the 2002 coup attempt. Bernardo Álvarez, the country's ambassador to the United States, described the licensing decision as a simple regulatory matter, which "was not made based on RCTV’s critical editorial stance against the government, nor was it directed at silencing criticism of the government." Explaining that Venezuela wished to adopt a more European model of public broadcasting, he wrote that 79 of 81 Venezuelan television stations, 706 of 709 radio broadcasters, and 118 newspapers remain in private hands, citing a May 30, 2007 op-ed published in the Los Angeles Times: “Radio, TV and newspapers remain uncensored, unfettered and unthreatened by the government. Most Venezuelan media are still staunchly anti-Chávez.”[11]

The government's position has been supported by the testimony of coup leader, Vice-Admiral Víctor Ramírez Pérez, who, when commenting on the coup, told a Venevisión reporter on 11 April 2002: "We had a deadly weapon: the media. And now that I have the opportunity, let me congratulate you."[12]

An article from Reuters mentions the position of the Chávez government that the TV station, among others, "openly supported a coup against him in April 2002 and refused to show the massive mobilization of his supporters that turned the tide back in the president's favor."[13]

RCTV plea rejected[edit]

On 17 May 2007, the government rejected a plea made by RCTV to stop the TV station's forced shutdown.[14] On 19 May 2007, nearly thirty thousand protesters gathered in Caracas protesting the government's decision two days earlier. Other marches took place in Maracaibo and Valencia.[14]

Prior to the end of the broadcasting license[edit]

On 21 May 2007, hundreds of journalists and students marched in Caracas carrying a banner reading "S.O.S. Freedom of Expression."[14] A few days later, on 25 May 2007, university students from the Universidad Católica Andrés Bello, the Universidad Simón Bolívar and the Universidad Central de Venezuela protested against the government's intentions.[15][16] Thousands of protestors marched in the streets of Caracas on 27 May for and against RCTV. In the evening, demonstrations in front of Conatel, the National Telecommunications Commission, became violent, with protestors throwing rocks and bottles at police, who responded with tear gas and rubber bullets. Eleven police officers were reported injured in this incident.[17] In Nicaragua, followers of Hugo Chávez voiced their support of his closing of RCTV on 27 May in Managua. This small rally was met with negative reactions from local press, who condemned the involvement of the Venezuelan Ambassador Miguel Gómez.[18]

On May 24, the Supreme Court ordered RCTV to stop broadcasting as soon as its license expired and approved the government's takeover of all of its equipment and stations, though it would review the station's appeal of the decision. Chávez announced plans to start broadcasting a public service channel, TVes, using the infrastructure that belonged to RCTV.[19]

Shutdown[edit]

For more details on this topic, see TVes.

RCTV ended its final day of broadcasting with a rendition of the national anthem performed by network employees and on-air talent, followed by a shot of a pro-RCTV protest. The screen then faded to black. A few seconds later, a series of TVes idents appeared on Channel 2. At 12:20 a.m. AST (0420 UTC) on May 28, 2007, TVes began its programming airing a video recording with the national anthem, performed by a large choir clad in Venezuelan colours and full sized orchestra led by the famous young Venezuelan conductor Gustavo Dudamel. After some network promos, TVes switched to an auditorium, where station president Lil Rodríguez gave a speech to a crowd of Chávez supporters.

According to a 24 May ruling by the Venezuelan Supreme Tribunal of Justice, all RCTV broadcast equipment will be temporarily controlled by TVes.[20]

The Venezuelan government has also denounced CNN and Globovisión.[21]

Aftermath[edit]

National reaction[edit]

June 1, students of the Universidad Central de Venezuela and Universidad Católica Andrés Bello marching against the government's decision. (photo by: Jesús E. Machado P.)

Thousands of protesters marching both against and in support of the government's decision remained on the streets in Caracas on May 28, May 29, May 30, May 31, and June 1. The National Guard and Police remain on the streets in the event that violence occurs, such as on May 28. At least eleven police officers and one protestor from the incident at Conatel,[22][23] as well as three students and one police officer from a separate protest at Brión plaza in Caracas, have been reported injured.[24][25] Twenty other students at Brión plaza were treated for tear gas inhalation.[24][25]

In the afternoon and evening of 29 May, protests in Caracas and Chacao became violent, with protesters in Chacao blocking Avenida Francisco de Miranda. At least seventeen people have been reported by Globovision to be injured on 29 May.[26]

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights petitioned the Venezuelan government for information about arrested and injured protestors; the Venezuelan government has not provided the information, saying it would violate the confidentiality of the adolescents involved.[27]

On 2 June, tens of thousands marched through Caracas to support President Chávez decision.[28]

International reactions[edit]

Since the week prior to the shutdown of RCTV, many individuals, international organizations and NGOs—including the OAS's Secretary General José Miguel Insulza[29] and its Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression,[30] the Inter American Press Association,[31] Human Rights Watch,[32] and the Committee to Protect Journalists,[33]—have expressed concerns for freedom of the press.[34] However, Secretary Insulza also stated that it was up to the Venezuelan courts to solve this dispute[35] and that he believed that this was an administrative decision.[36]

The International Press Institute stated that it is "a flagrant attempt to silence the station's critical voice and in violation of everyone's right 'to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers,' as outlined in Article 19 of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights"[37] The Committee to Protect Journalists "concluded [Chávez's] government failed to conduct a fair and transparent review of RCTV's concession renewal. The report, based on a three-month investigation, found the government’s decision was a predetermined and politically motivated effort to silence critical coverage."[38] Reporters Without Borders stated "The closure of RCTV [...] is a serious violation of freedom of expression and a major setback to democracy and pluralism. President Chávez has silenced Venezuela’s most popular TV station and the only national station to criticize him, and he has violated all legal norms by seizing RCTV’s broadcast equipment for the new public TV station that is replacing it."[39] Freedom House has given Venezuela a press freedom rating of "Not Free"[40] since 2002,[41] most recently describing a number of new laws, most particularly the 2004 Ley Resorte, that include prohibitions against broadcasting violent material between 5 a.m. and 11 p.m., targeting a group or individual for hatred, and insulting president Chávez, under penalty of severe fines and imprisonment.

The Senate of the United States approved a motion promoted by Senators Richard Lugar and Christopher Dodd condemning the closing,[42] and Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, asserted that it was an attempt to silence the critics of the Government.[43] The U.S. State Department,[44] the European Union,[45] the senates of Chile[45][46] and Brazil,[47] and the legislatures of a number of other Latin American countries have also expressed concern over the incident.

European Commission President José Manuel Durão Barroso qualified the measure as regrettable, adding that "freedom of expression and press freedom are substantial components of democracy."[48] Costa Rican President Óscar Arias Sánchez stated that any media closing was a deathly strike against any democratic system.[49] Chilean President Michelle Bachelet said she regrets the decision and that "freedom of expression is the golden rule."[46] Along with her, Finnish President Tarja Halonen said she was watching the situation with concern.[50] The Spanish Partido Popular, the main opposition party, called the closing an "attack against freedom of expression".[51]

After the Brazilian Senate passed a motion urging Chávez to reconsider the revocation of RCTV's license, Chávez "accused the Brazilian Congress of acting like a 'puppet' of the US", prompting Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva to say “Chavez has to take care of Venezuela, I have to take care of Brazil and (US President George W.) Bush has to take care of the US”.[52][53] Later, Lula da Silva said the decision of not renewing the broadcast license was internal Venezuelan business, adding that the legal logic of each country should be respected.[54] Chávez said that presidents Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua and Evo Morales of Bolivia have phoned to show support to his decision and that Álvaro Uribe from Colombia said that his country would not mess in Venezuela's internal affairs.[55] President Rafael Correa of Ecuador said that he would have canceled the broadcast license automatically (after the 2002 coup).[56]

References[edit]

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