Venezuelan TV license case to go before Human Rights court

by Chris Carlson,

The Inter-American Human Rights Commission of the Organization of American States (OAS) accused the Venezuelan government of "human rights violations" in the case of the private television channel RCTV. The case will now go before the Inter-American Human Rights Court, reported RCTV yesterday.

The Inter-American Human Rights Commission (IHRC) said that the Venezuelan government is responsible for "violating the human rights, freedom of expression, and personal safety" of the RCTV workers and journalists.

The case originated after workers and journalists of the channel brought a case before the IHRC in 2002, claiming that the Venezuelan government was violating their freedom of expression due to various "physical and moral aggression" against workers and journalists. The Commission released a decision on December 20th, 2006, stating that the rights of RCTV workers had been violated, and making various recommendations to the Venezuelan government with respect to the case.

The Commission had asked the Chávez government to guarantee the RCTV workers conditions in which they can operate, to not attack the workers and journalists of the channel, and to investigate and punish those who had made any such attacks. The Commission informed yesterday that the government had not complied with their requests and the case would therefore be brought before the court.

In addition to the previous case regarding workers and journalists of the private channel, the Commission will also include the more recent case of non-renewal of RCTV's broadcast license.

Chávez announced the decision to not renew the broadcast license of the private channel last December. The Government maintains that they reserve the sovereign right to grant or deny broadcast licenses on the public radio-electric spectrum. They also make the case that the private channel was involved in the 2002 coup attempt against the Chávez government.

However, the directors of the RCTV channel, along with opposition politicians, maintain that the Chávez government has made the decision to "punish" them for their "independent" news coverage and their criticism of the government. The channel's broadcast license expires on May 27th, when they will no longer be able to broadcast on the VHF spectrum. RCTV directors claim that the decision could affect more than 4,000 employees.

"The Venezuelan government should respect the fundamental conditions so that RCTV can carry out its journalistic work," said RCTV's judicial consultant Oswaldo Quintana. He insisted that not renewing their broadcast license would be "violating the recommendations" of the OAS, an "organization that the government must respect."

The case will now pass before the Inter-American Human Rights Court, which will make the final decision. According to analysts, this process could take between one and two years before the court makes any declaration.

President Chávez, however, has already said that he will not give into any pressure on the case. Last Sunday, on his TV program Aló Presidente, Chávez made his position clear.

"It's very clear," he said, "the broadcast license expired and the state, who is the owner, reserves the right to give it to another organization or to other sectors."

Chávez said that regardless of national or international pressures, he would "never" change his decision.

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