<i>"The Name of Our Country is América" - Simon Bolivar</i> The Narco News Bulletin<br><small>Reporting on the War on Drugs and Democracy from Latin America
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Venezuela’s Catia TV Illegally Raided & Shut Down

The Year's Most Serious Attack Against Press Freedom


By Alex Contreras Baspineiro
Special to The Narco News Bulletin

July 14, 2003

Catia TV in Caracas, a community television station that is not merely at the service of the community but, rather, is directed by the local people, has just been closed in a maneuver more often seen under the old military dictatorships: The orders came from the current Metropolitan Mayor of Caracas, Venezuela (and an ex-”journalist”): Alfredo Peña, supporter of the attempted coup d’etat of April 2002 that Catia TV, among others, defeated.

Catia TV brings a very different form of television to (and from) the public than that of the Commercial stations. The programs, interviews, the operation of the equipment, the editing, and the organization of this Community Media outlet – that broadcasts from the poor neighborhoods in East Caracas – is constructed by the men, women, elders, and children. who live there… all the people, mobilizing daily. That’s why it was shut down: to silence the voices that Catia TV made strong. The transmitter and other equipment have been seized.

A Different Way of Communicating

Blanca Eekhout, Venezuelan scholar of the Narco News School of Authentic Journalism, and the director of Catia TV, told us that the local people made the TV station. Channel 25 – better known as “the Community TV station of the East” – had state of the art equipment thanks to the combined efforts of professionals, the public, the government, and solidarity organizations.


Blanca Eekhout in the studios of Catia TV.
Photo: D.R. 2003 Alex Contreras

During last April’s anniversary of solidarity with the Bolivarian Revolution, we had the opportunity to attend the inauguration of Venezuela’s National Community Media School in the neighborhood known as Manicomio, or “Asylum.”

Boys and girls of color – “afro-colombo-venezolanos” – of 10, 12 or 14 years old, entered their first training sessions in practicing journalism, or, better said, in how to build a new way of communicating.

The National Community Media School seeks to form a new generation of community audiovisual producers who express the national reality from the local perspective, through the teaching of the up-to-date technologies in managing image and sound, as students who – once trained – can give life to the exercise of participatory democracy from the breast of the communities where the people live.

A Call for Solidarity

The Venezuelan National Community Media Network, ATTAC-Venezuela, the National Association of Free and Alternative Community Media in Caracas, and other organizations, but above all the men and women from the poor neighborhoods that Catia TV served, demand the immediate reopening of Catia TV.

In this call for solidarity, they state:

“A television station was just shut down in Caracas. But this is not any of the Commercial TV monopolies in Venezuela that virulently oppose the reforms enacted by President Hugo Chávez…. The Media outlet today censored is one of the principal Community TV stations in the country. And he who shut it down is not President Chávez, but, rather, one of his fiercest opponents: The Metropolitan Mayor and and former journalist, Alfredo Peña….

“Seizing its transmitter and equipment, Mayor Peña deprives the popular neighborhoods of East Caracas the right to express ourselves and be informed independently of the Commercial Media. Peña has repeated, again, the same maneuver perpetrated during the coup d’etat of April 2002 wrought by ultra-rightwing military officials against the democratically elected government of President Chávez, supported in every one of the last six elections by the people.

“During the coup, the Community Media stations were raided, some of our journalists arrested and tortured, to impose the orden of the big commercial media chains who were accomplice to the coup: But in spite of this, our journalists in the Community Media continue to risk lives to continue the work of reporting the facts.”

Mobilization of the People

Today, key groups of citizens from the affected communities are mobilizing en masse in Caracas, raising their voices in protest and demanding the immediate reopening of Catia TV, the Community TV station legalized in 2002, thanks to a new law, that has been internationally recognized as a great advance in democracy, since it offers the people from the communities the chance to produce, in diverse and autonomous forms, independent information that is free from economic and political interests, and that received the rights to broadcast on radio and TV for a minimum of five years.

It should be noted that close observers like the author Naomi Klein have noted that certain organizations – like “Reporters Without Borders” in France – continue to blame attacks against press freedom, in spite of the facts, on the government of President Chávez. The elite owners of the large Commercial Media has brought intense campaigns to intimidate and discredit Community and alternative media, adding violent attacks and arbitrary censorship, such as what has just happened to Catia TV.

Urgent Action: “Flood the Zone”

Kind Readers of Narco News: In Caracas, today, there are marches and mobilizations calling for the reopening of Catia TV, for press freedom and respect of the rights of the people.

If, with Media outlets like Catia TV and others, the Venezuelan people were able to defeat the coup d’etat last year that was sponsored by the United States government, we are certain that this battle, too, will be won.

If you agree that attacks against Free Speech should be stopped, and, above all, in the right of the people to be well informed, please write to the former “journalist” and current Metropolitan Mayor of Caracas, Alfredo Peña, to demand that the anti-democracy actions against Catia TV be ceased and that this important Community Media station continues, freely, with its work of informing the public.

The email address of the coup-supporter and censor against press freedom, Mayor Alfredo Peña, is: alcalde@alcaldiamayor.gov.ve

Send copies of your letters to: puebloalzao@aporrea.org, ameriques@rsf.org

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The Narco News Bulletin: Reporting on the Drug War and Democracy from Latin America