A top Venezuelan diplomat on Saturday defended an investigation by regulators into a leading anti-government television station, rebuffing concerns that President Hugo Chavez's government is threatening free speech.
Roy Chaderton, Venezuela's ambassador to the Organization of American States, accused Globovision TV of "media terrorism" and said that foreign observers passing judgment on Venezuela are beholden "to the interests of the private media."
Regulators are investigating Globovision for allegedly inciting "panic and anxiety" in its coverage of a minor earthquake on May 4. The station couldn't reach the head of Venezuela's seismological agency for comment after the quake, and criticized the government for its slow response.
Chavez has demanded sanctions against Globovision, calling station director Alberto Federico Ravell "a crazy man with a cannon."
Chaderton was responding to criticism by two officials who monitor freedom of speech — Frank La Rue of the United Nations and Catalina Botero of the OAS — who said strong statements by government authorities against Globovision "generate an atmosphere of intimidation in which the right to freedom of expression is seriously limited."
They urged the government to guarantee that regulatory moves "do not imply acts of indirect censorship prompted by the media outlet's editorial stance."
Chavez accuses Globovision and other private stations of backing a short-lived coup against him in 2002, when they broadcast cartoons and movies instead of protests that aided his return to power.
Chaderton said the government has put a powerful group of private media "in its place," but has done so within the framework of the law.
"With what has happened here, in other countries, those stations would already have been taken off the air," he told state television, apparently referring to the 2002 coup.
Globovision is now the only stridently anti-Chavez channel left on the open airwaves. Another anti-government channel, RCTV, was booted off the air in 2007 and moved to cable, and two other channels toned down their criticism.
Venezuela still has a wide variety of newspapers and radio stations that are critical of Chavez.