CARACAS (Reuters) - Hours after President Hugo Chavez shut down Venezuela’s main opposition broadcaster, his government demanded an investigation of news network Globovision on Monday for allegedly inciting an assassination attempt on the leftist leader.
Chavez took Radio Caracas Television, or RCTV, off the air at midnight on Sunday and replaced it with a state-run channel to promote his socialist programs. The move sparked international condemnation and accusations from the opposition that he was undermining democracy in the OPEC nation.
Protests over the closure of RCTV, Venezuela’s oldest private channel, simmered in several Venezuelan cities on Monday. In some locations, the police used tear gas to disperse the crowds.
Seizing on the momentum of RCTV’s closure, Communications Minister Willian Lara presented a case to the state prosecutor’s office saying experts hired by the ministry had found that opposition broadcaster Globovision was inciting assassination attempts on Chavez.
As evidence, he cited Globovision showing footage of an assassination attempt against Pope John Paul II in 1981 accompanied by the song “This Does Not Stop Here,” sung by Ruben Blades, now Panama’s minister of tourism.
“The conclusion of the specialists ... is that (in this segment) they are inciting the assassination of the president of Venezuela,” Lara told reporters at the prosecutor’s office.
Globovision was not immediately available to respond to the government’s charge, but one of its reporters at the prosecutor’s office said the footage was taken out of context.
The journalist said Globovision had been showing archive footage from RCTV accompanied by songs with a farewell theme the week before RCTV’s closure.
At a Caracas news conference, Benoit Hervieu, Americas director at Reporters Without Borders, said: “Yesterday we saw the takeover of the principal media critical of President Chavez. ... Besides Globovision, what television media is left that can criticize the government of Mister Chavez?”
Chavez’s reforms, since he assumed the presidency in 1999, have given him greater control over the country’s judiciary, the military and the oil sector.
Critics had said an independent media was the only safeguard against Chavez forging a Cuban-style regime. The closure of RCTV leaves Globovision as the main media voice opposed to Chavez, but it does not broadcast nationwide.
Venezuela’s opposition media has been widely accused of violating basic journalistic standards. Chavez accuses both Globovision and RCTV of backing a bungled 2002 against him.
RCTV ran movies and cartoons when protests by Chavez supporters turned the tide in Chavez’s favor during the 2002 coup. It also joined a grueling two-month strike that year by showing only anti-Chavez propaganda and marches for weeks.