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In Venezuela, voice of dissent lowering volume

  • Article by: CHRISTOPHER TOOTHAKER and KARL RITTER
  • Associated Press
  • May 27, 2013 - 7:30 PM

CARACAS, Venezuela - Venezuela's only TV channel that has been openly critical of the socialist government was in turmoil Monday after a popular talk show host was fired and the opposition's leader said he was being denied live coverage.

Changes in Globovision's editorial line had been expected after new owners took over the broadcaster earlier this month and signaled they would tone down the channel's confrontational stance.

But there had been no sign of a sharp deviation from Globovision's anti-government line until Henrique Capriles, who emerged as the chief political rival to the dying President Hugo Chavez last year, said Sunday that the channel no longer allowed live broadcasts of his speeches.

Prior to this year's presidential election, which Capriles narrowly lost to Chavez's hand-picked successor, Nicolas Maduro, Globovision often carried live speeches by the opposition leader that were ignored by state media.

Another sign of the editorial shift came Monday when Francisco "Kico" Bautista, a popular talk show host, said he was fired for questioning Globovision's new leadership.

"This is a country of dreams and it deserves a government and a democracy that is better than what we have," Bautista said at a news conference.

"It cannot be that what you dream of is the life that we have, where there's not even toilet paper," he said, referring to chronic shortages of basic necessities.

Globovision did not immediately answer a request for comment, though its legal consultant, Ricardo Antela, tweeted Monday that he would advocate preserving an editorial line "independent of the government and other interest groups."

Antela also said he would attempt to fight for "the rights of citizens to receive truthful and opportune information, and opinions, without censorship."

Raimundo Urrechaga, an information ministry official, did not respond to an email seeking comment on Capriles' allegation that Globovision's new owners were pressured by authorities to prohibit the broadcast of his live speeches.

Critics lashed out at the channel on social media and wondered whether it would fire other editorial staff members who criticize the government. Globovision's Twitter account, one of Venezuela's most popular, was losing 10,000 followers by the hour Monday.

Tinedo Guia, president of Venezuela's largest journalists association, told The Associated Press that he has asked for a meeting with Globovision's new owners to find out "first-hand what editorial line they want to pursue."

A major change would mean "that democracy is finished in Venezuela, that everything will go down one single road ... The government can impose its editorial line on all stations, besides those it controls," Guia said.

Press freedom activists had criticized Chavez, who died in March, of taking restrictive measures to gradually weaken the country's private news media. Concerns have mounted over more tightening under Maduro.

In a speech Monday, Maduro took aim at CNN's Spanish service, accusing it of trying to destabilize the country and "openly calls for a coup d'tat in Venezuela."

In a statement emailed to AP, CNN didn't directly address Maduro's charge but said it had invited him to appear on air several times to share his vision for Venezuela.

"Every time we have reached out to the president to appear, we have not received a response to our invitation," the statement said. "Once again we invite President Maduro publicly to have a conversation about these important issues and we hope that he can accept it."

Little is known about the political affiliation of the Venezuelan businessmen who bought a majority stake in Globovision earlier this month, Juan Domingo Cordero, Raul Gorrin and Gustavo Perdomo.

In a series of tweets, Capriles said they are linked to the government, calling them "enchufados" — people with political connections. Capriles routinely uses the term in a denigrating way against the representatives of officialdom in Venezuela.

After a meeting with Maduro last week, Cordero said Globovision would remain a news channel, but would also work to reduce conflict and promote peace in Venezuela.

"We will transmit the news, exclusively the news, and telling the truth," he said.

Signaling a less confrontational stance against the government, he said: "You know the reasons why Globovision didn't come to this palace (under the previous owners). That's not going to happen again with Globovision."

A website dedicated to Cordero describes him as a "brilliant economist" who was a board member on the Caracas Stock Exchange and the board of trade in the state of Miranda. It says he also served on a commission the Central Bank established "to integrate the activities of the stock market in the metropolitan area."

The site says Cordero took over the Seguros La Vitalicia insurance company with partners Gorrin and Perdomo in 2008.

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Associated Press writers Fabiola Sanchez in Caracas and Frank Bajak in Lima, Peru, contributed to this report.

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