By Jeremy Morgan
Latin American Herald Tribune staff
CARACAS – Communications and Information Minister Blanca Eckhout voiced support for the idea, now busily doing the rounds in government circles, of introducing a new law against “media crimes.”
She also backed action by the National Telecommunications Commission (Conatel) against broadcasters who transmitted advertisements by Cedice and Asoesfuerzo – two groups which are campaigning against President Hugo Chávez’ controversial though still ill-defined concept of “social property.”
Neither of Eckhout’s statements Tuesday came as a surprise. She toed the by now familiar official line that the government was taking measures to “protect” Venezuelans and to “democratize the airwaves” – arguments first put forward by Infrastructure and Housing Minister Diosdado Cabello, whose fiefdom includes control of Conatel.
As has also become familiar, Eckhout claimed there was a “fundamental” need to halt “impunity in the use of wavelengths” that used to be in the hands of an “oligarchy” that had instigated violence during the crisis which briefly ousted Chávez from office in April 2002.
There was more in this vein as Eckhout claimed the government had achieved the “unanimity” of public opinion in condemning the upheaval seven years ago as a coup attempt, and then lambasted the “Empire” – that is, the United States – for keeping the violence going in Honduras despite world condemnation of the coup in that country.
She congratulated Telesur, the regional Latin American station set up by Chávez to counter what he sees as the undue influence of “capitalist” media in the region, for its coverage of the crisis in Honduras. It had “broken the circle of the lie and shown the world the truth,” she said.
On Monday, Globovisión, the private 24-hour all-news channel that invariably has been unafraid to point out the faults and foibles of Chavez's government, protested against Conatel telling it to take publicity material by Cedice and Asoesfuerzo off the air. Conatel also said it would launch yet another “administrative procedure” against the channel, taking the total this year so far to at least five.
In a parallel move, 18 studio staff at Globovisión were summonsed before a court in Caracas on Monday as “witnesses” in a case centered on the broadcast in October last year of an interview with Rafael Poleo, a newspaper proprietor openly hostile to Chávez.
The government continued its campaign against Globovisión President Guillermo Zuloaga. Prosecutors announced that they intended to charge Enrique Kshenoke, the proprietor of a car sales company.
This was in connection with a fleet of 24 cars found during a raid on May 21 on a residence in the upmarket suburb of Los Chorros in east Caracas. The residence is owned by Zuloaga, who has been charged with “generic usury” for supposedly hoarding the vehicles for “speculative” purposes.
Zuloaga denies the charge. His attorney, Perla Jaimes, has been charged with obstructing justice. She had gone to the residence to represent her client on hearing about the raid, and has since quipped that she must be the only lawyer in the world to be charged for doing her job.
Attorney General Luisa Ortega Díaz, who’s been under public pressure from Chávez to take action against his critics or move aside in favor of somebody who would, has said that all the people connected with case at Los Chorros will be put on trial.
All this is taking place against a background of controversy over the price of new cars after Chávez angrily demanded to know why they cost so much more in Venezuela than in neighboring countries. Legislators have duly sprung into a flurry of action.
National Assembly Deputy Elvis Amoroso, a warhorse from the president’s ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) who is heading a special committee looking into this issue, said that concessionaires “will agree” to cut their profit margins on car sales by between three and 10 percent.