Government Probe Into TV Network for Anti-Chavez Comments

Venezuela's telecommunications regulator is asking prosecutors to determine if an opposition-aligned television network is responsible for a talk show guest's suggestion that foes might kill President Hugo Chavez.

The probe, which potentially could force the station off the air, adds to a string of government actions against Globovision and its owner.

Roselyn Dager, a representative of the Conatel telecommunications agency, said the channel's broadcast license could be revoked if the attorney general's office determines the news network incited a crime when newspaper editor Rafael Poleo said Chavez could end up "hanging" like Italian dictator Benito Mussolini.

"If it's shown that Globovision has supported or permitted criminal activities ... the license could be revoked," Dager told state television.

Representatives of the Attorney General's Office could not be reached for comment. But prosecutors are obliged under Venezuelan law to act on Conatel's request.

Prosecutors are investigating Poleo, but they have not yet determined if his comments on a talk show in November were aimed at inciting violence. Poleo said Chavez should be careful or he may end up "hanging with his head down."

Ana Cristina Nunez, one of the network's legal advisers, said the channel should not be punished for a guest's statements. If prosecutors determine that Globovision can be held accountable for Poleo's remarks, the channel's broadcast license could be revoked, Nunez said.

Globovision director Alberto Federico Ravell said the request by regulators is aimed at intimidating the channel to curb criticism of Chavez.

"If there was any doubt that they want to close Globovision, that doubt is being cleared up," Ravell said.

Chavez urged Globovision's executives last week to reflect on the station's tough criticism of his government or else it "won't be on the airwaves much longer."

In recent weeks, Venezuela's tax agency has slapped Globovision with a $2.3 million fine for purported tax filing errors, prosecutors have charged its president in a probe into alleged fraud and pro-Chavez lawmakers began investigating allegations linking the channel to an anti-government conspiracy.

Broadcast regulators also are investigating Globovision for allegedly inciting "panic and anxiety" by criticizing the government for failing to quickly inform citizens about a minor earthquake last month.