By Carlos Camacho
CARACAS -- Venezuela’s decision to take CNN en Espanol off the air for at least 70 days is not censorship, the head of Conatel, the country’s telecommunications watchdog, said Thursday morning during an interview with state television.
CNN “has not been nor will it ever be censored”, Andres Eloy Mendez said, even as he announced that Conatel was blocking CNN’s signal on the internet also, after cable companies took it off the air Wednesday night.
CNN said Wednesday night that it was opening a free YouTube channel specially for Venezuela.
According to local free-expression NGO “IPYS”, more than 50 radio and television stations have been closed by direct action of the Venezuelan government from 2005 onwards. Other media outlets traditionally critical of the government have been purchased by entities friendly to “chavismo” and their coverage and editorial policies have changed profoundly. At least two high-profile newspaper groups, Cadena Capriles and El Universal, were bought by Samark Lopez, the Venezuelan businessman the U.S. Treasury Department designated a drug “kingpin” on Monday along with Venezuelan Vice President Tareck El Aissami, according to local media.
“We are carrying out all of the coordinating by our operations managers, coordinating with internet service providers so that, with the existing technology, we can make the respective blockades,” Mendez said.
But it’s just an administrative procedure, not censorship, the official argued.
“CNN has the right to defend itself, the administrative deadlines are moving forward, the procedure was barely opened yesterday, it is being taken off the air as a cautionary measure. Let’s wait for the lapse of 60 to 70 days (off the air) to come to pass,” Mendez added.
Mendez blasted CNN, saying it manipulated images to reflect badly on the country and, specifically, on the person of embattled President Nicolas Maduro. The icon of the Venezuelan flag “was framed in blood” during broadcasts of Venezuelan-related items. The face of President Maduro “was tinged in red” also, while the word “crisis” took half of the screen during Venezuelan segments, Mendez stated.
Foreign Minister Delcy Rodríguez had called CNN's report, which detailed how Venezuela's government was selling passports to potential terrorists, an “imperial operation of a television network in the service of American political and military agencies” as part of “war propaganda campaign against Venezuela.”
While pro-Maduro lawmaker Diosdado Cabello, who participated in the coup with Chavez, celebrated CNN being taken of the air during his own TV show on state television, opposition lawmaker Tomas Guanipa said that measure “is just another reason for changing the government” of Venezuela.