Protests For and Against RCTV Continue in Caracas

Caracas, May 28, 2007 (— The case of the private Venezuelan television channel RCTV going off the air due to the non-renewal of its broadcast license this Sunday provoked large protests in Caracas both in favor and against the station. Opposition marchers rallied in front of the National Telecommunications Commission (Conatel), where conflicts with the police produced several injuries. Pro-government protesters, on the other hand, marched through the center of Caracas to celebrate the end of RCTV and the opening in its place of the new public service channel TVes.

The controversy surrounding the case reached its highest point this weekend as the nation’s oldest television channel came to the end of its on-air broadcast license. Supporters of the decision see the measure as a democratization of the nation’s media system, which in their view has been dominated by the minority economic elite. Opponents to the decision, however, claim that it is a form of muzzling opposition to the Chavez government given that RCTV was one of the strongest critics of the government.

The pro-government march started at midday Sunday from the Caracas sector of Catia and made its way toward the city center. The march had the purpose of not only supporting the government decision to end the broadcast of RCTV on public airwaves, but also to celebrate the opening of the new public service channel Tves. Supporters rallied in the city center until the early morning hours to celebrate the transition from RCTV to the new public service channel.

Opposition protests reached a climax yesterday afternoon with a brief outbreak of violence between police officers and protesters who reportedly began throwing stones at the police. Initial reports indicate that several officers were wounded, to which the police responded with spraying water cannons at the crowd.

Protests continued into the day today with university students rallying at the Central University in Caracas as well as the Simon Bolivar University. Students at the private Metropolitan University also held protests provoking a response from police and the National Guard who reportedly shot tear gas at protesters.

"You have to accept dissidence, there can’t be just one line of thought," said the dean of the Central University Antonio Paris in support of the protests today.

"We can’t let Venezuela be converted into Cuba or ally itself to terrorist states," said RCTV president Marcel Granier. "We have to find a way to reconnect ourselves to the television screens so that people can express their opinions."

But those who support the decision see it as an opening to more diversity, and not a restriction of thought.

"We support the government’s decision to not renew the broadcast license of the channel that supported the coup, and to open new roads of communication with the new channel Tves," said one of the pro-government protesters.

"I have been a supporter of this revolution for many years and it depends on us being able to change the things that damage the society, like RCTV," said another marcher. "We are going to try to make a better country for our children and adults."

Those who support the decision celebrated the transition to the new channel, Tves, at midnight Sunday night. At 12:00 p.m. the transmission of RCTV went off the air amid wild cheers from the pro-government supporters. Minutes later, from inside the Caracas auditorium Teresa Carreño, the crew from the new public service channel began their broadcast with a musical gala in the presence of a live audience.

The new channel will have a variety of programming including educational, entertainment, children’s programs, sports, news, and more. The idea of the project is to offer a wide diversity of nationally produced programming on Venezuela’s airwaves.