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Reporters Without Borders Blasts Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez Over Press Freedom

The press freedom group Reporters Without Borders on Friday condemned a decision by President Hugo Chavez not to renew the broadcast license of an opposition-aligned TV station, saying it will be a major setback for the Venezuelan media.

The Paris-based group called it a "serious attack on editorial pluralism" in a statement e-mailed to journalists, and urged the Venezuelan government to "reconsider its stance and guarantee an independent system of concessions and renewal of licenses."

Chavez said Thursday that Venezuela will not renew the broadcast license of Radio Caracas Television, or RCTV, when it expires next year. The channel is one of the country's main private stations and has been strongly critical of Chavez.

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Venezuelan Information Minister Willian Lara denied the decision was political, saying the channel's license is simply expiring May 28.

"There is no political persecution against anyone," Lara told reporters Friday. "The period of concession granted to RCTV is just expiring ... The Venezuelan government has made a decision very well founded in the law."

He said the broadcast spectrum is limited and therefore government-regulated. The government decides which broadcast licenses are granted through the National Telecommunications Commission.

"The decision to continue making TV productions or not is for the board of directors" of the company, Lara said. He added that if the station decides to seek a permit to operate as a cable channel, it will be up to the telecommunications commission to decide.

Marcel Granier, president of Empresas 1BC, which owns RCTV, said in an interview Friday with Associated Press Television News that the government is "running roughshod over the state of law" and that his channel's employees have the right to continue working "without following the dictates of the regime's propaganda ministry or the president."

"People are seeing threats to their independence," Granier said. "I think fundamental values are at stake."

Chavez, who was re-elected by a wide margin Dec. 3, has warned repeatedly that the government could deny licenses to media outlets that he accuses of trying to oust him — including RCTV.

Announcing the decision Thursday, Chavez said: "There will be no new concession for that coup-plotting television channel."

RCTV was among several private media outlets that supported an opposition-led strike in 2002 and 2003 that failed to unseat Chavez.

For more news about Venezuela and the Americas, click here.