|Protests in Caracas after Venezuelan cable and satellite TV providers stopped transmitting Radio Caracas Television, an anti-Chavez channel known as RCTV Photo: AFP/GETTY|
A cable-television channel critical of President Hugo Chavez was removed from the air on Sunday for defying new government regulations requiring it to televise some of the socialist leader’s speeches.
Venezuelan cable and satellite TV providers stopped transmitting Radio Caracas Television, an anti-Chavez channel known as RCTV, after it did not broadcast Mr Chavez’s speech on Saturday to a rally of political supporters.
“They must comply with the law, and they cannot have a single channel that violates Venezuelan laws as part of their programming,” Diosdado Cabello, director of Venezuela’s state-run telecommunications agency, said.
The telecommunications agency “doesn’t have any authority to give the cable service providers this order,” RCTV said in a statement. “The government is inappropriately pressuring them to make decisions beyond their responsibilities.”
RCTV switched to cable in 2007 after the government refused to renew its license for regular airwaves. Mr Chavez accused the station of plotting against him and supporting a failed 2002 coup.
Under the new rules, two dozen local cable channels, including RCTV, must carry government programming when officials deem it necessary, just as channels on the open airwaves already do. Mr Chavez regularly uses that legal power to force the country’s broadcast TV and radio stations to carry his marathon speeches, which can last up to seven hours.
The changes, decried by the opposition, journalism groups and viewers, come as Mr Chavez is confronting domestic problems – including a recession, soaring inflation and electricity shortages. Though he remains Venezuela’s most popular politician, Chavez has slipped in the polls and is campaigning against an emboldened opposition to keep control of the National Assembly in September elections.
In Caracas neighbourhoods, Chavez opponents leant out apartment windows early Sunday to bang on pots and pans. Others shouted epithets and drivers joined in, honking car horns.
RCTV has a smaller audience than it did in 2007 but has remained popular. The channel claims that 90 per cent of cable viewers say they watch RCTV.