Storm rages over RCTV shutdown


MEXICO CITY -- Protests continued in Venezuela on Tuesday, two days after the government shut down private network RCTV and later announced that it was investigating two other broadcasters for news coverage allegedly biased against President Hugo Chavez.

Following a weekend of clashes between demonstrators and police, student groups on Tuesday continued to protest the closure of RCTV, Venezuela's oldest private broadcaster.

Chavez supporters also took to the streets Tuesday, backing the president's refusal to renew RCTV's broadcast license. Chavez alleges RCTV supported a coup to overthrow his government in 2002.

On Monday, the government said prosecutors are now investigating broadcasters CNN and Globovision. Information Minister William Lara accused Venezuelan network Globovision of inciting Chavez's assassination. Additionally, Lara said that CNN had juxtaposed images of Chavez with an Al Qaeda leader, suggesting the president was associated with terrorism.

Globovision has denied the accusation. On a recent CNN news program, the network said it "categorically denies that it is conducting a campaign to discredit or attack Venezuela."

Meanwhile, several rights groups have condemned Chavez's decision to pull the plug on RCTV and replace the network with state-backed broadcaster TVES.

"President Chavez has silenced Venezuela's most popular TV station and the only national station to criticize him, and he has violated all legal norms by seizing RCTV's broadcast equipment for the new public TV station that is replacing it," Paris-based Reporters Without Borders said.

Human Rights Watch called the RCTV shutdown "a serious blow to freedom of expression in Venezuela."

Chavez is standing firm on his decision. On Tuesday, he was quoted as saying he made "a sovereign, legitimate decision in which there in no argument."