CARACAS, Venezuela – The sale of a TV station likely would be a minor story in many countries, but in Venezuela, just a rumor about a sale has the potential to dominate the news cycle.
After rumors circulated for the past week that Globovisión, a TV network famous for being critical of President Hugo Chávez's administration, was up for sale, the station's board of directors denied them through a statement on Feb. 11.
“Globovisión is not being purchased or in the process of being sold,” the statement read.
But the saga did not end there. Alberto Federico Ravell, the station's director, announced via Twitter he no longer has a job at the station.
“From this moment on, I am no longer the director of Globovisión. They asked for my resignation. I did not resign. We will keep in touch,” he wrote on the social network on Feb. 12.
Carlos Correa, the director of the Venezuelan media think tank Espacio Público, said the commotion caused by the rumors is understandable. Radio and TV stations often have changed their editorial policies because they've been pressured by the Chávez administration to be less critical of the government, Correa said.
“Censorship and self-censorship feed mutually,” he said. “The censor mechanisms and judicial pressure have resulted in self-censorship. This already has been seen in radio, and now it is being seen in TV.”
The government has initiated at least 62 administrative trials against different media outlets the past few years, according to Correa.
Laureano Márquez, a political scientist known in Venezuela for his humorous works, wrote an opinion column depicting the country without Chávez as president in the Jan. 30 edition of the Caracas newspaper Tal Cual.
Almost immediately after the story was published, the ministry of communication announced it was looking into filing charges against Márquez for “violating the Constitution by using his article to incite a coup.”
His column, "Venezuela without Esteban," offered a satirical look at the first 100 years after “President Esteban” – a fictitious leader. Márquez did not use Chávez's name in his column.
But the Chávez administration was not amused. Blanca Eckhout, the minister of communication, said the story was “an invitation for a coup plan, genocide and terrorism.”
But Márquez believes the government's action was to “create fear” and the “main aim is to let the Venezuelans speak less.”
“As long as people see limitations to express themselves, to free thinking, they will start to become inhibited to think critically,” he said.
Márquez claims Eckhout's goal is to cause fear that would lead to censorship, as the accusation never led to the filing of charges.
Márquez is the most recent victim, but he's not the only one.
Late last month, journalist Miguel Ángel Rodríguez of RCTV International, and Noel Álvarez, the president of the business trade federation Fedecámaras, experienced a similar situation.
On Jan. 21, Diosdado Cabello, the minister of public works and housing, went to the attorney general's office to request an investigation of Álvarez and Rodríguez for inciting a coup.
Cabello was quoted in the newspaper El Universal that Rodríguez and Álvarez used the words “militant solution” during a broadcast, even though it was intended as a play on words.
“The solution for the problems in Venezuela is a militant solution. To have militancy in Fedecámaras, to have militancy in all the trades to build a bloc to resist the hegemonic will of having control of all media in government hands,” was said by the duo according to Cabello.
Reporters Without Borders said last week that Venezuela had created a system in which the government views all criticism as a plot against the state.
The organization said in a press release that the extensive support by some local media outlets for the failed coup in 2003 is being used by the government to justify its war against today's media.
The Venezuelan government responded by approving the social responsibility act in 2004, which regulates what radio and TV stations can broadcast. It enabled law enforcement to temporarily shut down RCTV in 2005 and suspend its cable operations this year.