Venezuelan Cable Channels Ordered to Broadcast Chavez's Speeches

Venezuela's state-run telecommunications agency formally notified two dozen local cable television channels on Thursday that they must carry mandatory government programming, including marathon speeches by President Hugo Chavez.

Agency director Diosdado Cabello said 24 cable channels, including the anti-Chavez channel Radio Caracas Television, which moved to cable in 2007 after the government refused to renew its broadcast license, must air presidential addresses under new regulations.

Cabello said the rules approved by the agency last month only apply to cable stations that produce content within Venezuela. More than 160 other cable channels, including the Caracas-based and state-run Telesur network, CNN, Discovery, Fox, HBO, MTV, Sony, TNT, Univision and ESPN, are exempt from the new regulations, he said.

The president of Venezuela's cable television chamber, Mario Seijas, told The Associated Press the changes would not significantly affect cable providers operating in the South American country because most of the channels carried on cable would abide by the new rules.

"Our programming won't be altered," Seijas said.

Roughly 37 percent of Venezuelan homes receive cable television, according to the telecommunications agency.

If any channel violates the new regulations, Cabello said operators must "immediately remove them from programming" or face sanctions, including hefty fines.

Cabello also urged prosecutors on Thursday to file criminal charges against Noel Alvarez, the president of Venezuela's largest business chamber, for allegedly attempting to incite a coup. In a recent televised interview Alvarez made statements aimed at provoking a military rebellion against Chavez, he said.

Alvarez could not be immediately reached for comment regarding the accusations.