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Cablegate: Venevision Seeks "Balance" in News Coverage

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E.O. 12958: DECL: 2035/02/12
TAGS: PGOV PREL VE
SUBJECT: Venevision Seeks "Balance" in News Coverage

CLASSIFIED BY: DUDDY, AMBASSADOR, DOS, AMB; REASON: 1.4(B), (D)

1. (C) Summary. Ambassador Duddy met with representatives of Venezuela's largest non-subscription media group, the Cisneros Group (Venevision), on February 10 to discuss the current status of freedom of expression in the country. The media conglomerate, owned by Gustavo Cisneros, claims its news channel Venevision provides neutral, balanced and objective news coverage. Some in the opposition allege the station has made backroom agreements with the government and self-censors content to avoid government retaliation. End Summary.

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Venevision Claims Neutrality, Denies Pact/Self-Censorship
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2. (C) XXXXXXXXXXXX met with Ambassador Duddy and DCM Caulfield at Venevision television headquarters in Caracas on February 10. Venevision is the largest remaining private, free-to-air television station, with a 60% national audience share. Bardasano said that due to the highly polarized political atmosphere in the country, Venevision strives for objective and neutral news coverage. He said the station's coverage tends to be approximately 60% opposition and 40% pro-government by content, with the ultimate goal of achieving a 50/50 balance.

3. (C)XXXXXXXXXXXX denied widespread allegations that a pact
had been made between Chavez and Cisneros during a June 18, 2004
meeting hosted by the Carter Center in Caracas to moderate Venevision's editorial line in exchange for remaining on air. (Note: Chavez had earlier alleged that Cisneros and Venevision
helped to instigate and prolong the 2002 coup attempt through Venevision's coverage of the anti-government demonstrations and lack of coverage of the pro-Chavez demonstrations that eventually led to his return to office. Marcel Granier, the owner of RCTV, has publicly alleged that Chavez decided to close Venevision's competitor, RCTV, during that meeting. End Note.) Venevision executives also denied self-censorship in their news coverage, although they acknowledged that they walk a fine editorial line in order to present objective and balanced news coverage. According to XXXXXXXXXXXX, "It is very difficult here and the (political) skin is very sensitive, for both sides." He added, "We will continue our balanced approach... We report both sides and then let the viewer decide. This is very delicate work." XXXXXXXXXXXX also noted that investigative journalism was not practiced by most journalists in the country.

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It's RCTV's Fault that They Were Closed
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4. (C) XXXXXXXXXXXX claimed that Venevision has always provided moral support for competitor RCTV International. However, they stressed that Venevision had spent "two painful years" gathering documentation to comply with new government regulations established pursuant to the June 12, 2000 Organic Law on Telecommunications and that they had done the necessary work to successfully renew their license in 2007 for a five-year period. According to XXXXXXXXXXXX, Venevision had to
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"strictly comply with the (new) law, and we presented our documentation - even opposition-oriented Globovision complied with the new requirements. We had numerous discussions with XXXXXXXXXXXX about what to turn in under the new law and how to renew their license." (Note: RCTV's license was not renewed in 2007,
resulting in massive street protests in support of the station.
End Note.)

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And If Globo Should Close?
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5. (C) Venevision executives and the Ambassador discussed the future of freedom of expression in Venezuela should RCTV and Globovision eventually be closed by Chavez. (Note: The government
regulatory agency Conatel recently pressured local cable operators to remove RCTV from their programming for allegedly violating new regulations that classified RCTV as a national audiovisual producer and thereby required it to carry mandatory broadcasts, including President Chavez' speeches. Globovision and its owner are currently subject to numerous regulatory and criminal investigations; see septel for rumors regarding Globovision's sale.
End Note.)
The Ambassador reminded Venevision executives that should Globovision be closed, Venevision would have to carry the banner of freedom of expression as the largest remaining private free-to-air TV media group in the country and the only one with independent content.

6. (C) XXXXXXXXXXXX told the Ambassador that it would be difficult for Venevision without Globovision. According to XXXXXXXXXXXX, "Should Globovision fall, a huge alarm bell will sound in Venezuela." XXXXXXXXXXXX accused the government of "economic strangulation" of free-to-air networks, noting that Venevision
loses on average five hours of publicity every day due to mandatory government programming. "It is a strategy of slow death," said XXXXXXXXXXXX. (Note: Free-to-air broadcasters are required to carry government productions, commercials, and speeches free of charge.
End Note.)

7. (C) Comment: Venevision's strategy is to stay alive even if it means working hard to avoid antagonizing the government. In this way, they insist non-government views will have a chance to reach the public. As the GBRV continues its drive to marginalize, moderate, or silence any media not under its control, Venevision's management understands that even cautious Venevision could become a target.
DUDDY

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