A political battle is raging in Venezuela following President Hugo Chávez’s failure to appear for his re-inauguration on January 10. The first victim of this conflict is the private television station Globovisión which could face sanctions for having read out on air the article in the constitution referring to the transfer of power.
It’s the eighth investigation launched against the news network since a law was passed eight years ago on the social responsibility of radio and television. The network could face a fine of 10 percent of its gross revenues for 2012, temporary closure or the complete withdrawal of its license, which expires in 2015.
According to the network’s vice president, María Fernanda Flores, “it’s a new attack against freedom of expression, only hours after the president of the country’s highest court, Luisa Estalla Morales, reminded us that this freedom is enjoyed throughout the country. But we are continuing to do our job of informing people.”
Several months ago, Globovisión had to pay a 2.1 million dollar fine – 7.5 percent of its gross annual revenues – after the state-run National Telecommunications Commission (Conatel) accused it of inciting public hate for its reporting about a munity in a prison near Caracas.
In the latest investigation, the Commission is considering sanctioning Globovisión for having broadcast Article 231 of the National Constitution, which was drawn up by Chávez in 1999.
During a debate between politicians, lawyers and reporters about how to deal with the president’s absence because of illness, Globovisión presented the article together with statements made by President Chávez himself shortly before leaving for Havana for yet another operation. It also broadcast the views of the Vice President designate Nicolás Maduro and Attorney General Cilia Flores – who is Maduro’s wife.
Maduro and Flores said Chávez could be sworn in by the Supreme Court on a different date than January 10. In a ruling on January 9, the Court left open when, where and how Chávez would be sworn in. According to the Court, the president elect’s absence in the short or long term is irrelevant, and Maduro and his ministers must remain in office.
But on that same January 9, in separate rallies, the president of the National Assembly, Diosdado Cabello (who participated in Chávez’s military uprising in 1992) and Energy Minister Rafael Ramírez, urged Conatel to investigate Globovisión for its broadcast.
Cabello and Maduro are appearing more and more frequently in public, often together, to assure supporters of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela that Chávez’s ministers are united. But political analysts believe they are in fact rivals, with Cabello representing the military wing and Maduro the civilian wing.
Cabello said “hopefully Conatel will find that Globovisión has manipulated the truth. It only broadcasts what it wants.” Ramírez, for his part, asked Conatel to take action against the network which he described as “an agency with a right-wing agenda”. “We know who Globovisión is”, said Ramírez. “Conatel needs to punish them. This is unacceptable.”
Shortly after Cabello and Ramírez delivered their speeches, and while the country was still digesting the Supreme Court’s ruling, Conatel officials arrived at Globovisión’s offices.
According to Conatel director Pedro Maldonado, “if these proceedings coincide with the views of the president of the National Assembly, this is a mere coincidence”. Conatel argues that Globovisión’s broadcast “incited hate, panic and disturbed public order”. As a result, the network not only faces penalties, but it’s barred from broadcasting similar statements in future.
“Globovisión is being punished for broadcasting the constitution!” tweeted the network’s former director, Alberto Ravell. The station’s lawyer, Ricardo Antela, believes “they’re trying to draw attention away from the delicate political climate in the country by blaming Globovisión”.