Anti-Chavez Channel in Venezuela Faces Deadline

An opposition-aligned television channel, already booted from the airwaves, faced a deadline Wednesday to agree to carry speeches by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez or be yanked from the cable lineup.

The country's telecommunications commission gave Radio Caracas Television, or RCTV, until midnight Wednesday to register as a national producer, a category that would require it to interrupt its programming at the government's request to transmit Chavez's speeches.

The new cable channel RCTV International says it disagrees with the requirement to register as a "national audiovisual producer" and intends to be an "international channel."

It asked the commission to clarify its rules, saying it appears to be enforcing them differently now that RCTV is transmitting by cable.

"We're talking about crimes against human rights here," RCTV chief Marcel Granier said on a Wednesday interview program. "They are crimes for which they're going to have to pay. ... We'll see how far it goes."

There was no immediate reaction from the telecommunications commission.

Chavez forced RCTV, the country's oldest private channel, off the air on May 27 by refusing to renew its broadcast license. He replaced it with a public-service channel, accusing RCTV of supporting a 2002 coup that briefly removed him from power and of repeatedly violating broadcast laws.

The channel began transmitting on cable and satellite on July 16.

Venezuela's Chamber of Subscription Television has urged the government to extend the deadline and hold talks, but has received no reaction, chamber president Mario Seijas said.

The chamber asked the Supreme Court to intervene Wednesday and block RCTV from being removed from cable while it clarifies which stations are national producers, Seijas said.

He said other channels could be affected and they shouldn't have "to guess if they are obliged to register" or not.

Despite criticism from press freedom groups, Chavez insists freedom of speech is being respected.

Many of Venezuela's media outlets are still privately owned and critical of Chavez. But the RCTV case has drawn condemnation from critics because only one other major channel, Globovision, remains firmly sided with the opposition.

Chavez's regularly takes over the airwaves for marathon speeches, requiring channels to carry portions of them in what is known under Venezuelan law as a "national network."

RCTV said being required to carry such mandatory programming would make its operations "economically nonviable."

While other nations have similar provisions, few presidents have used it as often as Chavez — more than 890 hours of air time since he took office in 1999, according to a recent study by Andres Canizalez, a researcher at Andres Bello Catholic University who also works with the press group Reporters Without Borders.

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, in contrast, generally invokes such powers only several times a year. Under Brazilian law, he can do so when there is a need to "preserve public order and national security or in the interests of the administration."

Canizalez noted that Chavez is using the measure less frequently in recent years, decreasing from a high of 375 times in 2004 to 15 in 2007 as of the study's release in March. An updated figure for 2007 was not immediately available.