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Government attacks TV station

Police last night raided the home of the president of the Caracas-based Globovision in what may well be the first step in the total shutdown of the TV station.

The police were there purportedly to inspect a collection of cars that Guillermo Zuolaga was keeping at the property. Zuolaga said he had moved them from a showroom because it had recently been burgled.

But most will interpret this as a direct attack by the government on a dissenting voice.

The government repeatedly attacks Globovison and threatens it with closure. By my count it’s about once every three months. But this time it looks like they may well carry it through.

President Hugo Chavez’s rhetoric has been particularly strong this time. On a visit to Argentina he specifically warned that he might have to shut down some media outlets.

The most ludicrous aspect is the latest charge the government is levying against them: they are accused of spreading panic by reporting on an earthquake last month before the state channels did so.

Globovision are no saints and they are certainly not known for their impartial coverage. Think of them as the equivalent of Fox News. Even many people who identify themselves as opposition don’t like them and see them as a hindrance to the opposition’s credibility.

But they are the last dissenting voice on the broadcast airwaves after Chavez neutralized other private channels by threatening to take them off the air. A large majority will see that as an attack on freedom of expression.

The last time this happened – to RCTV in 2007 - there were huge marches in the streets and Chavez lost a referendum six months later.

Globovision won’t relent: attacking the government is their brand and unlike other private channels they don’t have telenovelas to fall back on. The government seems just as dedicated to the fight.

Is this raid just a shot across the bows or the first step in a total shutdown? To me it looks like the latter.