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Is Venezuela's opposition TV channel bowing to government pressure?

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Jorge Silva/Reuters

(Read caption) Screens are seen at the master room of Venezuela's opposition TV station Globóvision in Caracas, Tuesday.

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 David Smilde is the moderator of WOLA's blog: Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights. The views expressed are the author's own.

What originally appeared as a visible but subtle change of direction at Venezuelan television station Glovovisión has in the last two weeks become a raucous turning point with multiple journalists being fired or resigning. The turmoil leaves Globovisión’s role as an opposition outlet in doubt and appears to represent a new extension of the Venezuelan government’s control over broadcast media.

Following Guillermo Zuloaga’s announcement in March that he had agreed in principle to the sale of Globovisión it was finally acquired at the beginning of May by a business group rumored to have ties with the Government.

The announcement of the hiring of journalists Vladimir Villegas and Leopoldo Castillo as station directors generated considerable optimism about the new Globovisión and its independence. However on May 13, after a meeting with the new owners, Mr. Villegas surprisingly announced on Twitter that he would not be accepting the position after all. He commented that “we didn’t reach agreement on programming nor on what my competencies would be.” 

One of the new owners, Juan Domingo Cordero, declared on May 16 that there had been disagreements in the meeting with Villegas over the general direction the business should follow, but he assured that there would be no changes in the channel and that all the journalists would keep their jobs: “All the news anchors are staying, there won't be any changes here.”

However events have unfolded quite differently.

On May 22, President Nicolás Maduro met with two of the new owners of the Channel, Raúl Corrín and Gustavo Perdomo, in Miraflores. The meeting was qualified by the business men as “cordial” and they declared that they had told President Maduro that Globovisión would contribute to “the decrease in the levels of violence in the country.” Information Minister Jorge Arreaza, also present in the meeting, revealed that Maduro had insisted on the need for “generating television content with transcendent values for the future of the children and the need to struggle against fascism, which is a threat to society in any part of the world.”

Only two days after that meeting with the government, Globovisión confirmed rumors that Ismael García (opposition National Assembly representative and responsible for making public the Mario Silva audio) would leave his morning opinion program “Aló Venezuela.” The program will still be aired with co-host Delvalle Canelón but without Mr. García. The statement explained that the policy of the channel was not to air programs hosted by candidates for political office, and since García would be a candidate for Mayor of Caracas in the upcoming municipal elections, the channel had asked him to leave the program. In Venezuela it is common for elected leaders and candidates for office to simultaneously work as broadcast journalists.

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The next day the channel also announced that the popular late night host of the show “Good Night,” Francisco Bautista “Kiko,” would leave Globovisión. On the same night of the 26th Henrique Capriles tweeted several times about Globovisión. He expressed solidarity with the workers of the channel and claimed that the new owners had given express orders not to provide live coverage of his speeches and declarations.

On Monday the 27th, news anchor Pedro Luis Flores, and “Buenas Noches” cohost Carla Angola announced they had quit Globovisión in solidarity with Kiko. The Globovisión web page announced the reporters where leaving the channel on “the best of terms.” That same day Globovisión published a statement on its web page reaffirming that the exit of García had been on friendly terms and that Kiko had made misinformed declarations on the matter. The statement denies the existence of a “list of professionals” that will be fired, and ends with the assertion that “media outlets are not political parties.”

That same afternoon, reporter Leopoldo Castillo (popular host of the show “Aló Ciudadano” and now temporary director of Globovisión), in a statement aired by Globovisión declared that there had been misunderstandings recently and that he would do everything in his power to keep the channel’s personnel “united,” but if that was not possible, he would simply leave. He also asked his fellow reporters to “not respond emotionally” and impulsively. He added that if he discovered recent events in the channel where part of a “systematic policy, which up to date I have not uncovered, you can be sure that I will speak out.” (The video can be seen here.)

That same night Kiko declared to CNN en Español that his meeting with the new owners of the channel had been “very aggressive”, and that they had “used the same arguments that the oficialismo [government] uses to attack me. They told me that the channel had been used as a political party and was responsible for what had happened in the country. They told me that I used slander and that I made fun of people.” He also denounced that the day Ismael García had made public the Mario Silva audio, in several occasions they had tried to take it off the air “and then that night at news hour, when that information was given, the reporter that wrote the note said that it had been edited. They took out the parts where Diosdado Cabello was named.”

In a press conference, Kiko reiterated that the new board of directors is exercising censorship in line with the Government. He also declared that during his last meeting with the new directors, they had offered to buy the name of the show “Buenas Noches,” which Kiko owns, but that he had refused.

On Tuesday May 28 Maduro declared that the problem with Globovisión is not disagreements over a supposed change of editorial line but a fight between different factions of the “right” for control of the channel: “They are dealing with a huge problem among themselves…In the end they are the ones that are destroying the TV channel that the fascist right used to poison the country: Globovisión.”

The Globovisión official twitter account has suffered an “unfollow” campaign by opposition followers unhappy with what they perceive is a change in the editorial line of the channel. According to Noticias 24, the account had 2,732,394 followers on Sunday 26th. At the time of writing this post the account has 2,349,779 followers.

–  David Smilde is the moderator of WOLA's blog: Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights. 

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