Once-defiant Venezuelan TV goes quiet amid opposition protests

Wed Feb 19, 2014 7:34pm EST
 

By Brian Ellsworth

CARACAS (Reuters) - Twelve years after they played a key role in a coup, Venezuelan television networks have so heavily scaled back their coverage of anti-government protests that critics are decrying a "media blackout" that helps the government cling to power.

Stations that openly encouraged Venezuelans to take to the streets in 2002 and helped trigger the coup that briefly ousted socialist leader Hugo Chavez are now offering minimal real-time coverage of nearly a week of anti-government protests.

At least four people have died.

When security forces arrested opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez on Tuesday, bringing tens of thousands of supporters into the streets to block the path of the vehicle carrying him, networks that for years covered every twist and turn of Venezuelan politics offered almost no live coverage.

President Nicolas Maduro, who was elected last year after Chavez's death from cancer, scoffs at allegations that his government has restricted free speech, insisting he is simply seeking to prevent the media from causing panic.

But he drew criticism from press freedom groups including Reporters Without Borders by ordering a Colombia-based news channel NTN24 to be removed from cable signal after it broadcast live coverage of violence that started last Wednesday.

"We are deeply concerned about the attempts at creating an information blackout by threatening local media and censoring international media that provide information about events that affect the country's citizens," Venezuela's main reporters' trade union said, also criticizing NTN24's removal from cable.

The political turnaround in Venezuela's broadcast media has happened steadily over the last seven years, beginning with Chavez's 2007 move to take the fiercely critical RCTV station off the air by denying a renewal of its broadcast license.   Continued...

 
Supporters of opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez throw back to police a gas canister during a protest against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro's government in Caracas February 19, 2014. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins