CARACAS (Reuters) - After a tense run-up to Venezuela’s legislative election punctured by nasty swipes and gunshots, the opposition and the leftist government are again locking horns, this time over the National Assembly’s tiny television channel.
The victorious Democratic Unity coalition is set to take administrative control of the ANTV channel come January, wresting it from President Nicolas Maduro’s ruling Socialists who had maintained a legislative majority for well over a decade.
The opposition won a commanding majority in the National Assembly on Sunday, opening a new chapter in the polarized country’s politics.
Newly elected opposition legislator Henry Ramos, rumored to be in line to preside over the assembly, said his bloc would review the “shameful” television channel over what he called a blatant bias toward the ruling party and exclusion of rival politicians.
In one memorable episode, the broadcaster filmed the ceiling during a fistfight in the National Assembly which landed former opposition lawmaker Maria Corina Machado in hospital.
ANTV’s web home page features “58 songs by our Supreme Commander Hugo Chavez,” who ruled Venezuela until his death from cancer in 2013.
“To use state money, the money of all Venezuelans, and manipulate media as if it were propaganda tools for a political party is not only inelegant, it is also corrupt,” said opposition coalition leader Jesus Torrealba at a news conference on Tuesday.
Maduro’s government has defended the channel, whose board has warned that its 300 employees might face mass layoffs.
“We’ve received phone calls at the offices at different times, and they ask: ‘Who is here? We’re your new bosses, we’re coming for you’,” said ANTV director Merly Garaicoa.
The opposition has denied the accusations, stressing that it is not interested in persecution or unjustified layoffs, although it does want to overhaul the channel.
“ANTV is going to change,” vowed the opposition’s Ramos, promising broader coverage and investigation into alleged corruption.
The opposition on Tuesday urged Maduro to stop making excuses for his candidates’ defeat in legislative elections, and instead urgently tackle food shortages and free jailed politicians.
Writing by Alexandra Ulmer; Editing by Alistair Bell