Under state pressure, Venezuela TV limits live coverage of protests

Two employees from Globovision, a 24-hour Venezuelan news station, said the TV channel receives regular warnings from state telecom regulator Conatel against showing live footage of clashes between anti-government protesters and security forces, or broadcasting terms such as "dictatorship" and "repression."

"It's a daily threat," said one of the employees, citing information from station managers and asking not to be identified for fear of reprisals. "Conatel is making decisions about coverage." 

In contrast to past waves of unrest in Venezuela, particularly during Hugo Chavez's 1999-2013 rule, the nation's three main private television stations have provided minimal live coverage of the latest anti-government demonstrations, rarely showing more than a few minutes of real-time images of protests, which have left 57 people dead amid anger against President Nicolas Maduro and frustration over the crumbling economy. 

Regulators do openly describe vigilance of coverage, with Conatel director Andres Mendez recently telling state TV the regulator was constantly evaluating Globovision and some of its anchors. 

Unable to follow the protests live on TV, many Venezuelans have turned to other sources of information, especially online. "I find out what's going on from my phone and social media," said Claudia Mejias, who watches Colombian network Caracol via cable at the hair salon where she works and then shares information with friends via Whatsapp and Facebook. Social media platforms have to some extent supplanted TV news. 

Mendez of Conatel said authorities are in the process of acquiring technology that will regulate electronic media better. 

Created during the Chavez era, Conatel's brief is to guard against the promotion of violence and inappropriate content for children. But opposition critics say it has instead become a politically-motivated censor. 

The two Globovision employees said its producers were under instruction that opposition protests should not be broadcast live for more than a minute, and to follow that with footage of a government minister. 

Evening news broadcasts by the country's other major private television networks - Venevision and Televen - usually include footage of the day's protests. But it is generally edited to avoid showing the handwritten signs calling Maduro a dictator or people chanting slogans against him, both of which are ubiquitous at rallies.

Employees from two of the major networks, all of whom also asked not to be identified, said they have also been instructed to carefully manage reporting and interviews so as to avoid state sanctions. 

Earlier this month, demonstrators doused a team of Globovision journalists with gasoline, and separately broke the windows of a car carrying the same team of reporters. "It's gotten much more aggressive," said a reporter from a private station who asked not to be identified. 

Foreign television networks have also come under pressure. For instance, in February, Conatel ordered cable television services to pull CNN's Spanish television network CNN en Español. 

In April, Conatel ordered two networks from Argentina and Colombia briefly off cable services, following accusations they were broadcasting "unfounded and false information." Four more foreign TV networks are being investigated, it said.

"We are constantly being monitored," said Ronald Rodriguez, president of Venezuela's subscription television industry association.

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