Chavez: Venezuelan government to obtain minority stake in sole opposition TV channel

By Fabiola Sanchez, AP
Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Chavez: Government to obtain minority TV share

CARACAS, Venezuela — President Hugo Chavez said Tuesday that his government will obtain a minority ownership share in Globovision, raising the stakes in his long-running battle with Venezuela’s sole remaining opposition television station.

Chavez said the authorities have determined that 25.8 percent of shares in Globovision belong to one of the owners of the Banco Federal, which the government took over last month citing financial problems and irregularities.

Chavez said the shares of Nelson Mezerhane will be seized by the government as it covers the deposits of bank customers.

With that minority ownership stake, the government will have a right to name a board member of Globovision, Chavez said.

“We’re joining the business,” he said.

Globovision takes a consistent anti-government stance, and its broadcasts have been a frequent target of the president’s wrath.

In a dig at the channel, Chavez proposed as the new board member late-night talk show host Mario Silva, who uses many of his programs on state television to vilify Globovision’s coverage. Chavez said it’s the government’s right to have a board member to “defend the shareholder’s interests.”

Chavez also suggested the government could take over an additional 20 percent stake that belonged to a shareholder who recently died, which would raise its ownership to 45.8 percent.

“If someone receives a concession and dies, the state recovers that concession,” he said.

In a statement read by a news anchor, the channel said individual shareholders don’t have a right to appoint members to the board and the only concession holder is the company Corpomedios GV Inversiones.

“Globovision’s editorial line doesn’t have percentage stakes. Globovision’s editorial line cannot be expropriated or taken over,” the channel said.

Press-freedom organizations including Reporters Without Borders and the Committee to Protect Journalists have expressed concern about Chavez’s stance toward Globovision. Chavez denies trying to silence the station for its editorial line.

The president has previously said Mezerhane owes the government for losses resulting from the takeover of Banco Federal, and has suggested the government intends to seize shares to recoup those losses. But Tuesday marked the first time he has spelled out how much of an ownership share in the channel the government intends to take.

Mezerhane, who was in Florida when his bank was taken over by regulators, has said he has no plans to return to Venezuela for now. He has condemned the bank takeover as political retribution against him and Globovision, saying the bank was in sound financial shape but the government had been pressuring him and had withdrawn large deposits to try to undermine the bank.

A Venezuelan court has issued an order for Mezerhane’s arrest, and prosecutors accuse him of taking depositors’ money out of the country.

Globovision has been the only stridently anti-Chavez channel on the air since another opposition-aligned channel, RCTV, was forced off cable and satellite TV in January. RCTV had been booted off the open airwaves in 2007.

Globovision’s majority owner, Guillermo Zuloaga, recently fled the country after a court issued an arrest warrant for him and one of his sons. Prosecutors want Zuloaga jailed while he awaits trial on charges of usury and conspiracy for keeping 24 new vehicles stored at a home he owns.

Zuloaga, who also owns several car dealerships, has called the charges bogus and says prosecutors are acting on orders from Chavez. The government took over management of the bank three days after a court ordered Zuloaga’s capture.

Globovision was not the only television station in Chavez’s sights Tuesday. He also questioned the validity of a broadcast license for Vale TV, owned by the Venezuelan Roman Catholic Church, whose leaders have been critical of his administration.

The president ordered his justice minister to study the situation, and said he wants “to recover that channel and put it at the service of the people.”

He said his predecessor, former President Rafael Caldera, had violated procedures when he granted the license to the church for what he said should be a state channel. Vale TV largely shows documentaries, including programs about nature and cultural themes.

Vale TV’s director, Maria Eugenia Mosquera, said the station obtained a license in 1998 that is good for 20 years and doesn’t expire until 2018.

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