Pro-Opposition TV Channel Calls for Talks With Chavez

A pro-opposition television station called on Saturday for talks with President Hugo Chavez after the Venezuelan leader warned the broadcaster to behave or be shut down.

Stepping up his recent verbal attacks on Globovision, Chavez warned its executives Thursday to "reflect" on the station's tough criticism of his government or else it "won't be on the airwaves much longer."

Globovision, the last stridently anti-Chavez channel left on the regular airwaves, said Venezuela's socialist president should sit down with the station's managers to discuss the rising tensions between them.

"The president should know that if he wants to talk, we're willing," Globovision director Alberto Federico Ravell told reporters. "We should sit down and talk, like they do in civilized countries."

In recent weeks, Venezuela's tax agency has slapped Globovision with a $2.3 million fine for alleged unpaid taxes, prosecutors have charged its president in a probe into alleged fraud, and 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.

Chavez has even called the station personally, threatening to close them down unless they behave, Ravell said.

"Behave ourselves how?" Ravell asked. "Stop informing people?"

The government's actions have prompted press freedom groups, including the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, to express concern over what they call "unwarranted accusations against the media" in Venezuela.

Chavez has defended the steps taken against Globovision and insists Venezuelans enjoy freedom of expression.

"The government has been tolerant not only with criticism, but with the offensive, the permanent aggression against the Venezuelan government," Chavez said Friday at a summit in St. Kitts.

He was angered by Globovision and other private channels when they supported a 2002 coup that briefly removed him from power. Two formerly critical broadcasters, Venevision and Televen, dropped their anti-government stances under the threat of sanctions, and Chavez refused to renew the license of a third, Radio Caracas Television, in 2007.