By Carlos Camacho
CARACAS -- Two Colombian television networks will not be available over Venezuelan cable systems as of Thursday -- one day after embattled head of state Nicolas Maduro blasted coverage of his embattled administration by foreign media outlets.
Censorship in Venezuela is widespread and growing fast, according to free-speech NGO “Espacio Publico” and the CNP and SNTP journalists and media workers labor organizations.
CNN en Espanol was taken off the air earlier this year in February, while Colombia’s NTN24 has been barred for several years now. On Thursday it was the turn of Colombian TV networks Caracol TV and RCN to say goodbye to the Venezuelan airwaves. That brings the total of TV networks taken off the air since 2014 to six, according to Caracas daily “El Nacional” -- three of those from neighboring Colombia, where criticism against the Maduro administration is growing and whose government condemned the election of a Constituent Assembly as a fraudulent power grab by the Venezuelan head of state.
“Caracol Television is off the air in Venezuela by decision of Nicolas Maduro,” Caracol TV tweeted early Thursday morning. The Colombian TV station is one of several major media outlets that does not call Maduro “President”. Minutes later the network tweeted again, adding: “Over the last few hours, Maduro had issued hard criticism against Colombian media.”
Caracol News Director Juan Roberto Vargas told Colombian radio that the "breaking point' was apparently Caracol's coverage of Venezuela's ousted Attorney General Luisa Ortega, who revealed from Brazil on Wednesday that Maduro and fellow leader Diosdado Cabello were linked to hundreds of millions in Odebrecht bribes and stolen CLAP money.
Paradoxically, Caracol TV and RCN were taken off the air after a press conference which started with the aim of showing foreign media representatives the gentler side of the Maduro administration, and ended in a near melee, where some media representatives were expelled or decided to leave the Miraflores Presidential Palace, while Maduro blasted the coverage other media outlets were giving the Venezuelan crisis.THE MOMENT OF TRUTH
A vision of what the new censorship under Maduro would look and feel like came during the press conference Wednesday, when bodyguards abruptly ordered all TV stations that were not state network VTV to stop broadcasting the event live. “Only state television!”, one bodyguard was heard shouting to journalists.
Representatives from Reuters and France’s AFP left the premises, apparently in disgust, although at least one attendant to the presser says they were expelled, forcibly, by security elements.
Tuesday, during a previous press conference with foreign media, Maduro started what seemed a Mea Culpa regarding but, in true Maduro fashion, soon mutated into a tirade against two of the few media outlets still operating in the country, BBC and CNN, and a challenge to the opposition.
“So, that’s all right, it’s all my fault. Everything you want, it is my fault. Everything you say is true, but what won’t be my fault is betraying this revolution,” Maduro, visibly exalted. “I can say today, August 22nd, that the Bolivarian Revolution is still standing on its feet. Here we are, then. We have not and we will not hand the power over to the oligarchy.”
“The oligarchy” is how Maduro calls Venezuela’s opposition parties. Venezuela has shut down 70 television and radio stations since Hugo Chavez took over in 1999, including, in 2007, Radio Caracas Television, the oldest TV station in the oil-rich country and the one with the highest ratings.