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TEXT OF STORYBOB MOON: At midnight this coming Sunday, Venezuela’s government is set to pull the plug on that country’s most-watched and oldest television network. The broadcast license of RCTV is being terminated. Critics accuse the station of bias against President Hugo Chavez and unethical journalistic practices. The government plans to set up a national public-service channel bankrolled by the Chavez administration. From the Americas Desk at WLRN, Marketplace’s Dan Grech has more.
DAN GRECH: President Hugo Chavez rails against Venezuelan media owners, who he says are biased against him.
But during his eight years in power, he’s become a media mogul in his own right. His government controls three national TV stations, eight radio broadcasters, a state news agency, an international news channel, a daily newspaper and a cultural magazine.
Opposition media, which once dominated Venezuela, is being given a run for its money. Teodoro Petkoff owns Tal Cual, a thin afternoon daily that’s highly critical of Chavez.
TEODORO PETKOFF:“Y han creado un aparato comunicacional gigantesco. Esta totalmente al servicio del gobierno y su partido. Han aprovechado el poder para ampliar su poder comunicacional.”
PETKOFF [ translated ]: They’ve created a gigantic communication apparatus that’s totally at the service of the Chavez government and his party. And they’ve taken advantage of their power to expand the reach of their message.
Chavez has turned himself into an ever-present figure on the national airwaves. His weekly show “Aló Presidente” routinely lasts six hours, and he often interrupts all radio and TV shows to broadcast his political messages.
A government official told Reuters that Chavez spends up to 40 hours a week on live broadcasts.
Andres Izarra is a key part of this media machine. He runs the 24-hour news network Telesur, Chavez’s answer to CNN en Español.
ANDRES IZARRA: This is a revolution. Things have changed here forever and a new system is being born.
Under the old one, the media was dominated by private companies. Izarra has said that Chavez is simply asserting “the informative hegemony of the state.”
IZARRA: Venezuela’s freedom of expression is alive, it’s more dynamic than it used to be before.
International watchdogs disagree.
The Inter-American Press Association, legislatures across the hemisphere, even the secretary general of the Organization of the American States all say Chavez has gone too far.
But Chavez has stood his ground. The public service channel that will replace RCTV will begin airing programs in 2008.
In Caracas, I’m Dan Grech for Marketplace.
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