Globovision feels government pressure

Venezuelan leaders deny role in tear gas attack

MEXICO CITY -- Tension is mounting in Venezuela as President Hugo Chavez's government has pulled the plug on dozens of private radio stations and threatens to shut down an opposition TV network.

On Monday, the anti-Chavez news network Globovision aired footage of about 30 people attacking its Caracas-based headquarters with tear gas. They reportedly were activists of the UPV, a pro-government party.

Globovision president Guillermo Zuloaga said in a televised interview that "the armed group was backed by the government," however, the Chavez administration condemned the attack and denied any involvement in the incident.

In recent months, the government has filed numerous charges against Globovision and its top brass, ranging from usury to unpaid back taxes. Globovision claims they are trumped-up charges aimed at silencing network criticism of Chavez.

Venezuela's telecommunications agency last week forced 34 radio stations off the air, citing "irregularities" with their broadcast licenses. The closures sparked a protest outside one of the stations over the weekend.

Press freedom organization Reporters Without Borders criticized the government's actions.

"This massive closure of mainly opposition media is dangerous for the future of democratic debate in Venezuela and is motivated by the government's desire to silence dissent," the non-profit group said.

This isn't the first time the Chavez administration has forced broadcasters off the air. In 2007, officials refused to renew the broadcast license of free-to-air TV network RCTV, setting off numerous manifestations by anti-Chavez supporters. Among other allegations, Chavez accused the station of supporting a failed coup in 2002. RCTV's news coverage was strongly critical of the current administration.

Meanwhile, in Ecuador, President Rafael Correa also is tightening the state's grip on media outfits. Correa, a Chavez ally, recently said his government will take control of an unspecified number of private radio and TV stations. As in Venezuela, Ecuadorian officials claim many broadcasters are operating with irregularities.