A TV Channel's Takeover Spells Bad News For Venezuela
With the ownership change of the 24-hour news channel Globovision, the last remaining television source for reporting that challenges the government is gone.
BUENOS AIRES — A statement recently issued by eight well-respected journalists characterizes Globovisión, a 24-hour news network in Venezuela, as “morally, ethically and journalistically inviable.” They stopped working for the channel after its new owners aligned with Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro’s government, which follows a left-leaning political ideology known as Chavista and associated with the late President Hugo Chávez.
The bloodletting started Aug. 16 when the channel announced it would cease broadcasting one of its most popular programs, Radar de los Barrios. The opinion and analysis program focused on current events and was hosted by Jesús Torrealba, who was summarily dismissed. Torrealba’s firing was followed by the resignation of another prestigious journalist, Leopoldo Castillo, who enjoyed high viewer ratings for his program Aló Ciudadano ("Hello Citizen") that was very critical of the Chavista model of government and its “abuses of power.” The show featured analysis and interviews during which Venezuelan citizens would call in to pose questions and offer their opinions. It was broadcast for 12 years.
On the same day, Roberto Giusti, host of another opinion and analysis program, also resigned, saying “the conditions for a free press” no longer existed at Globovisión. That night, the new owners of the network refused to broadcast his show and ran a Colombian news program instead.
That “dark Friday” had such an impact that eight other journalists have since resigned. They issued a statement last week alleging “news and programs censorship, a list of blacklisted guests, an attempt to impose questions on the journalists, and an unjustified imbalance” in news coverage favorable to the government.
Globovisión was formerly owned by Guillermo Zuloaga, whom the government accused of opposing Hugo Chávez in the 2002 coup attempt. Overwhelmed by numerous fines and lawsuits from the Chavista government, Zuloaga sold the channel in April to a group led by Juan Domingo Cordero and Raúl Gorrín, who are connected to the stock market and insurance companies. This is where the rapprochement with the government began, and it culminated with a change in programming and a wave of dismissals and resignations.
The new owners issued a statement to assure viewers that Globovisión would offer “accurate and timely reporting with objectivity and impartiality.” At which point Venezuelan Tourism Minister Andrés Izarra tweeted, “Globovisión’s audience will multiply now that they are betting on peace and truth.”
When Hugo Chávez assumed the Venezuelan presidency in 1999, he tried to establish broad control over the media. This has slowly been achieved through the closure of media outlets such as the RCTV news network, the sale of media conglomerate Cadena Capriles, and the co-opting of media groups such as Cisneros and Unión Radio. There also has been a systematic expansion of public media outlets that advocate for the government.
Globovisión was the only television news channel that was critical of the government while Chávez was alive. But Nicolás Maduro’s election victory spurred a leadership change within the news network. First it stopped broadcasting speeches by opposition leader Henrique Capriles. Then it began airing interviews with prominent Chavista officials who had previously refused the channel access.
There are now few media outlets critical of the Chavista government in Venezuela. Basically, the newspapers El Universal, Tal Cual and El Nacional are the only ones left. And now, with Globovisión’s ownership change, there are no more television channels presenting a different view of the government’s “official story.”