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May 2007 RCTV protests


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 Television (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.

Background

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

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

Carmona's decrees were followed by pro-Chavez uprisings and looting across Caracas. Responding to these disturbances, Venezuelan soldiers loyal to Chavez called for massive popular support for a counter-coup. These soldiers later retook the presidential palace, and retrieved Chavez from captivity. Carmona's regime was toppled, and Chavez resumed his presidency on the night of Saturday, 13 April 2002.

Over the following months, and again in the wake of the 2002 lock-out and general strike, Chavez stepped up his criticism of the country's private media companies, accusing them of having supported the coup. On his weekly television program Alo 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". 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.

"Lo juro por mis hijos... En el momento en que pasen la raya de la ley seran cerrados indefectiblemente." Alo Presidente, November 9, 2003, Program No. 171.

On December 28, 2006, President Chavez 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. The Supreme Court of Justice (Tribunal Supremo de Justicia or TSJ)controlled by Chavez allies Romero, Simon. Chavezs Move Against Critic Highlights Shift in Media. New York Times . Retrieved on 2007-05-29.
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* 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.

The government maintains that the non-renewal is caused by RCTV's alleged support for the 2002 coup attempt. Bernardo Alvarez, the country's ambassador to the United States, described the licensing decision as a simple regulatory matter, which "was not made based on RCTVs 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-Chavez.

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

An article from Reuters mentions the position of the Chavez 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."

RCTV plea rejected

On 17 May 2007, the government rejected a plea made by RCTV to stop the TV station's forced shutdown. 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.

Prior to the end of the broadcasting license

On 21 May 2007, hundreds of journalists and students marched in Caracas carrying a banner reading "S.O.S. Freedom of Expression." A few days later, on 25 May 2007, university students from the Universidad Catolica Andres Bello, the Universidad Simon Bolivar and the Universidad Central de Venezuela protested against the government's intentions. 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. In Nicaragua, followers of Hugo Chavez 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 Gomez.

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. Chavez announced plans to start broadcasting a public service channel, TVes, using the infrastructure that belonged to RCTV.

Shutdown

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 Rodriguez gave a speech to a crowd of Chavez supporters.

According to a "just in time" ruling by the Venezuelan Supreme Tribunal of Justice, all RCTV broadcast equipment will be temporarily controlled by TVes.

The Venezuelan government has also denounced CNN and Globovision.

Aftermath

National reaction

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, as well as three students and one police officer from a separate protest at Brion plaza in Caracas, have been reported injured. Twenty other students at Brion plaza were treated for tear gas inhalation.

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.

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.

On 2 June, tens of thousands marched through Caracas to support President Chavez decision.

International reactions

Since the week prior to the shutdown of RCTV, many individuals, international organizations and NGOsincluding the OAS's Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza and its Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression, the Inter American Press Association, Human Rights Watch, and the Committee to Protect Journalists,have expressed concerns for freedom of the press. However, Secretary Insulza also stated that it was up to the Venezuelan courts to solve this dispute and that he believed that this was an administrative decision.

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" IPI condemns shutdown of RCTV television station in Venezuela International Press Institute Accessed 29 May 2007. The Committee to Protect Journalists "concluded [Chavez'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 governments decision was a predetermined and politically motivated effort to silence critical coverage."Joel Simon, Executive Director CPJ urges Chavez to allow RCTV to stay on the air Committee to Protect Journalists Accessed 29 May 2007. 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 Chavez has silenced Venezuelas most popular TV station and the only national station to criticize him, and he has violated all legal norms by seizing RCTVs broadcast equipment for the new public TV station that is replacing it." International community urged to rally to defense of Venezuelas media after RCTVs closure Reporters Without Borders Accessed 29 May 2007. Freedom House has given Venezuela a press freedom rating of "Not Free" since 2002, 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 Chavez, 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,

US Senate in full passes resolution against non-renewal of RCTV license, El Universal, 25 May 2007; accessed 2007-05-30

and Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, asserted that it was an attempt to silence the critics of the Government. The U.S. State Department, the European Union, Chavez Threatens Last Opposition Network, CBS News, 30 May 2007. Retrieved on 2007-05-30 the senates of Chile Michelle Bachelet champions freedom of expression El Universal, May 29 2007. Retrieved on 30 May 2007. and Brazil, and the legislatures of a number of other Latin American countries have also expressed concern over the incident.

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

After the Brazilian Senate passed a motion urging Chavez to reconsider the revocation of RCTV's license, Chavez "accused the Brazilian Congress of acting like a 'puppet' of the US", prompting Brazilian President Luiz Inacio 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. 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.

Chavez said that presidents Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua and Evo Morales of Bolivia have phoned to show support to his decision and that Alvaro Uribe from Colombia said that his country would not mess in Venezuela's internal affairs. President Rafael Correa of Ecuador said that he would have canceled the broadcast license automatically (after the 2002 coup).

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