Venezuelan TV Station Takes Programming to Cable, Satellite After Being Forced Off Air

An opposition-aligned TV station forced off the air by President Hugo Chavez said it will take its programming to cable and satellite television.

Radio Caracas Television, or RCTV, is still waging a legal battle to reclaim its broadcast license that Chavez refused to renew, forcing it off the air on May 27.

But until it can return to the open airwaves, starting Monday RCTV will reach viewers via cable, station chief executive Marcel Granier said Wednesday.

"Venezuelans want RCTV, and they will have it," Granier told a news conference. "Until we achieve the goal of regaining our signal we must try to return to the air as soon as possible through alternative means."

Cable and satellite television cost roughly US$20 (euro14.50) a month — more than many Venezuelan families can afford — and reach approximately 30 percent of households.

Granier and other outspoken Chavez critics have cast doubt on the possibility of a favorable appeal process, noting that Supreme Court magistrates were appointed by Chavez's allies in the National Assembly and are widely perceived as government-friendly.

RCTV and three other major TV channels — Venevision, Globovision and Televen — are what Chavez has called the "Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse." He has accused the channels supporting a short-lived 2002 coup by broadcasting cartoons and movies instead of the protests that aided his return to power.

Venevision and Televen have since curbed their criticism of the government, while Globovision has stayed its course. RCTV was fiercely critical of Chavez until its signal was turned over to a state-controlled public-service channel.

During a televised address late Wednesday, Gustavo Cisneros, the Venezuelan media magnate who owns Venevision, defended the decision not to play an active role in politics.

"The position of a biased television channel doesn't help resolve the conflict, rather it extends it," Cisneros said. "Venevision seeks to be a medium for resolving the conflict, not a protagonist."

Cisneros, who is one of this South American nation's richest businessmen, stressed throughout his brief address that Venevision would not take sides in Venezuela's political tug-of-war.

RCTV was widely seen as Venevision's rival until it stopped broadcasting.

Granier said the priority for RCTV is still to return to viewers as a regular network on the open airwaves.

"We will not cease our efforts until we regain our signal and our equipment," he said. "This commitment is for all Venezuelans throughout the country to have RCTV again, for free."

RCTV has appealed a series of rulings handed down by Venezuela's Supreme Court that permitted Chavez's administration to force the opposition-sided channel off the airwaves and allowed the new channel to use RCTV's broadcasting equipment.

International press freedom groups, the European Union, the U.S. government, Human Rights Watch and others have expressed concern that the move against RCTV is a threat to press freedom.