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Venezuelans protest closure of TV station

Students march against the shuttering of an opposition TV station popular as much for its soap operas as its news reporting.

Cabello said monitoring of the channel had concluded that 94 percent of its content was national. “They can be broadcast in Colombia, in Chile, in the United States, which is the panacea, in China. But wherever they want to be broadcast they are going to be forced to adhere to that country’s laws.”

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and Reporters Without Borders both condemned the move. The closure "reveals yet again the government's allergic reaction to dissident voices within the country's leading broadcast media," the press freedom watchdog said.

Pedro Luna, a student at the Andres Bellos Catholic University in Caracas, said he was marching to protest the media’s right to freedom of expression. “It needs to be fair on all sides — if you want a country to advance you need to know that there is difference of opinion, you can’t look to have everyone thinking the same.”

RCTV gained international fame in 2007 when Chavez revoked its terrestrial license as punishment for alleged complicity in a 2002 coup attempt, sparking large protests by the mainly anti-government student movement. The nationwide rallies helped lead to the defeat later that year of a referendum to remove presidential term limits. Chavez comfortably won another vote on the same subject last year.

RCTV continued operating on cable after its terrestrial signal was awarded to TVES, a newly created state channel that hews to the government line.

A fierce critic of Chavez, RCTV is not know for its balanced reporting, said Mariclen Stelling, director of the Caracas-based Media Observatory. By forcing the closure of the station, the government is playing by the letter of the law but not by the spirit of democracy.

“I always make a distinction between what’s legal and what’s legitimate,” she said. “The government has always been careful to take measures that are legal. In this case Radio Caracas has not adjusted itself to the definition of an international channel and based on that Conatel is right, but what’s in doubt is the legitimacy. Is this measure legitimate when it’s against a channel that has confronted politically the government?”