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Guest Writer on RCTV

President Hugo Chavez’ decision not to extend RCTV’s license, thus removing the station from the public airwaves, has sparked a controversy – in Venezuela and globally —with a diversity of opinions.

People across the political spectrum have voiced protest over Mr. Chavez’ actions. They start from the position that shutting down a TV station goes against the freedom of speech that is the right of publics in a democracy. RCTV had an audience, and a high one, and the decision by the government to shut it down means that now pro-government TV will dominate. Despite the role its role in the 2002 coup, it is not Hugo Chavez’ institutional responsibility as president to decide if RCTV broke the terms of its license. It is truly the role of the courts to decide that.

Supporters take an opposite tact. Democratic societies are constantly making judgments about when to balance freedom of speech versus the need for security. This happened quite famously in Europe when were asked to stop the publication of cartoons that denigrated the Prophet Muhammad and Islam in late 2005 and early 2006. They also ask whether RCTV did, in fact, cross a line with its participation in the coup of 2002, and wonder whether a broadcaster in the United States would keep its license if it tried to help oust President Bush from office. Finally, they say, closing down RCTV does not mean that freedom of expression has died in Venezuela. Opposition still exists, and this needs to be recognized.

With all of this in mind however, to shut down any outlet of information is dangerous, because voices in a democracy deserve to be heard, especially when it is a voice that the government considers to be against the will of the people. Moreover, the way RCTV was shut down only gave ammunition to those who criticize President Chavez.

If Chavez would have allowed the courts to make that decision, he would have shown that in Venezuela the rule of law still exists and that there are institutions, other than the executive, that can keep checks and balances in the country. This would have mitigated criticism, and been an example to critics that Chavez is still working within a democratic framework.

This has become a self-inflicted wound with the international press escalating a conflict in a region that needs a broader focus than the ups and downs of the Chavez government.

Pedro, Mexico City


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