Venezuelan TV Messages Shape Election Debate

The late President Hugo Chavez appeared constantly on TV, and attacked media that criticized him. Now, only one opposition TV station remains. The left-leaning president called Globovision part of a right-wing conspiracy. Though Chavez is gone, the station's end may also be near.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

This is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm David Greene.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And I'm Steve Inskeep in Caracas, Venezuela. The presidential election scheduled here, this weekend, shows that democracy is more than voting. So much happens before a vote to shape the debate. Venezuela's late President Hugo Chavez appeared constantly on TV and attacked media that criticized him. Today, only one opposition TV station remains.

The left-leaning president called Globovision part of a right-wing conspiracy; and though Chavez is gone, the station's end may also be near. Here's NPR's Juan Forero.

(SOUNDBITE OF GLOBOVISION TV SHOW, "GRADO 33")

ROBERTO GIUISTI: (Foreign language spoken)

JUAN FORERO, BYLINE: At the Globovision studios here, a production crew films the daily political analysis show, "Grado 33."

(SOUNDBITE OF GLOBOVISION TV SHOW, "GRADO 33")

GIUISTI: (Foreign language spoken)

FORERO: The host is Roberto Giuisti. And on this day, he's looking into how the military is being used to get government supporters to the polls for Sunday's presidential election. It's the kind of hard-hitting report that infuriates the government, which was led by Hugo Chavez for 14 years until his death from cancer last month.

GIUISTI: (Foreign language spoken)

FORERO: We criticize the government like no other broadcast station in the country, Giuisti proudly says.

That's led to a $2.2 million fine for covering a deadly prison riot, coverage regulators said was unbalanced. And the station's reporters have been attacked in the street. The government accuses Globovision of participating in a 2002 coup that briefly ousted Chavez, and then of blacking out news of a popular uprising that returned Chavez to power. But government investigations have sputtered, and no one at the station has been charged.

(SOUNDBITE OF SINGING)

FORERO: Still, the government's die-hard supporters - who are out in force preparing for Sunday's election - say Globovision is out to end Venezuela's socialist revolution.

JORGE DIAZ: (Speaking foreign language)

FORERO: It's not Globovision, its globo-terror, says Jorge Diaz, who strongly supported Chavez. He adds, the station never says anything positive about the government.

To be sure, that may soon change soon. The government may not renew the station's license when it expires in two years, and may not allow Globovision to switch to digital transmission along with other stations. That could also be a death blow. So the majority owner, citing a campaign to financially strangle the station, announced he'd sell but after the election, to give coverage to opposition candidate Henrique Capriles. And the buyer, according to media observers here, is close to the government.

(SOUNDBITE OF GLOBOVISION THEME MUSIC)

FORERO: Venezuelans who grew up hearing the Globovision theme song have been taking all of this in. Eslovania Ramos is a lawyer, and a loyal follower of Globovision.

ESLOVANIA RAMOS: (Speaking foreign language)

FORERO: Globovision's had to deal with fine after fine, and of course those people don't have the resources to maintain the station, she says.

(SOUNDBITE OF AIR HORNS)

FORERO: For now, Globovision is focused on what could be its last big story - the presidential campaign - and giving ample air time to Capriles, the opposition candidate who is expected to lose on Sunday.

(SOUNDBITE OF AIR HORNS)

FORERO: Reporter Jeanelie Briceno, who's 30, has crisscrossed the country trailing Capriles. She says it's hard not to think about what will happen to the station after the election.

JEANELIE BRICENO: (Speaking foreign language)

FORERO: She says she wonders about Globovision's staff, and whether their rights will be respected. And she also says she wonders if a new director will change how Globovision covers Venezuela.

Juan Forero, NPR News, Caracas.

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