Globovision Network Fined $2.1M in Venezuela

Supreme Court ruled on a 2011 sanction by the Chavez administration for endorsing criminal acts.

BUENOS AIRES -- Venezuelan TV news outlet Globovision paid a $2.1 million fine last Friday in order to avoid a larger embargo imposed by the Supreme Court in a case presented by the National Telecommunications Commission (Conatel) in 2011.

The network's coverage of a month-long prison riot that was military intervened and resulted in more than 30 people dead had been accused by Conatel of breaking the Social Responsibility Law for Radio, TV, and Electronic Media, and fined with 9.3 million bolivares (USD $2.1 million). Conatel’s general manager Pedro Maldonado claimed at the time that Globovision had incurred in "crime endorsement" by inciting "disregard of the law" and "disturbance of public order," creating "turmoil in the citizens" and promoting "hatred and intolerance for political reasons."

In March, the Court had confirmed the fine and rejected Globovision’s appeal, which was then followed by the company’s petition for a new preliminary injunction and another suspension. On March 27, Conatel demanded the Court to force Globovision to pay. The SC then ruled an embargo of network assets for an amount equivalent to $5.6 million. The sanction was suspended this week after Globovision paid the original fine on Friday.

The network issued a statement last week when it announced that it would pay the "illegal" fine in order to ensure the continuity of the network:

“Globovisión is very clear about its responsibility to carry on operating and staying as a main window for free, independent denounce and information at the service of all the Venezuelan people, with no ideological distinction. Therefore, and even when we’re still waiting for the Judicial Power to restore our rights, Globovision is forced to pay the fine immediately. Not paying right away, after this grotesque and despotic sentence by the SC, would expose Globovision to the risk of a Court seizing the network’s assets and equipment in the following hours, and the Ministry of Information revoking our license.”

The embargo, which was condemned by the Inter American Press Association (SIP) as an “attack on free press”, was characterized by minister of information Andres Izarra as an “independent decision” of the Supreme Court. “The Executive branch has nothing to do with today’s ruling," he said when the embargo was announced last Thursday. The same day, Rep. Tania Diaz stated on radio: “We need to remember that the Board for Social Responsibility, a collegial entity with wide representation, evaluated the coverage of the events and determined Globovision had knowingly inserted the sound of a machine gun during a testimony."

Globovision, which openly opposes the Chavez administration, claimed the original fine was an act of censorship imposed by the government. The news outlet has had a long history of clashes with Chavez, which peaked in 2010 when owner Guillermo Zuloaga fled to the U.S. and requested political asylum after the Venezuelan district attorney’s office issued an order for his arrest for charges of usury and illegal collusion. Zuloaga claimed the charges were the result of a political vendetta.

The presidential campaign kicked off in Venezuela this year, with President Chavez running for yet another re-election against opposition candidate Henrique Capriles.

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