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Journalists jumping ship at Venezuela TV channel

Thursday - 8/22/2013, 8:00pm  ET

JORGE RUEDA
Associated Press

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) -- An exodus of top journalists from Globovision appeared to dim all hope Thursday for preserving editorial independence at what had been Venezuela's last nationally broadcast opposition TV channel.

At least a dozen journalists quit this week, complaining of government censorship, after the channel's best-known on-air personality, Leopoldo Castillo, announced that his signature show, "Hello, Citizen," was being taken off the air.

Castillo was named a news director at Globovision in May when the station's sale was completed to businessmen friendly with the socialist heirs of the late President Hugo Chavez.

The sale was announced before the April 14 presidential election in which Chavez's hand-picked successor, Nicolas Maduro, defeated opposition leader Henrique Capriles by a razor-thin margin. The seller, Guillermo Zuloaga, said state harassment, including fines, had left him no other option.

Capriles claims the Maduro camp stole the election through fraud, and Globovision's new owners have barred the station from covering him live. Capriles has since been forced to rely on Internet streaming and Twitter to try to reach Venezuelans.

In a statement Tuesday night, some of the resigning journalists complained of "unacceptable conditions gradually being placed on the free exercise of our profession." The station's new owners censored news bulletins and shows, created "a black list" of guests barred from appearing on air and attempted "to force some journalists to ask certain questions" that unjustifiably favored the government, the statement said.

"When I went to speak with management I was told my show did not match the new editorial line," Jesus Torrealba, one of the journalists who resigned, told The Associated Press by phone Thursday.

His show, "Radar of the Barrios," examined problems in Venezuela's poorest neighborhoods and was also taken off the air. Torrealba said freedom of expression hasn't disappeared in Venezuela, "but exercising it has a high cost."

The wave of resignations has prompted Globovision to fill much of its programming space with international offerings, including from CNN.

The station's new owners, who run an insurance company, have publicly pledged to be "objective and impartial" in their news coverage. They did not respond to repeated attempts by the AP to seek comment.

Globovision had been Venezuela's only opposition-allied national TV station since 2007, when Chavez's government refused to renew the license of Radio Caracas Television, accusing it of backing the failed 2002 coup attempt against Chavez, who was president for 14 years until his March death from cancer.

The government directly controls four TV channels plus the regional network Telesur.

Two opposition-run national newspapers remain, El Universal and El Nacional.

Venezuela's chief prosecutor announced July 30 that the government was freezing the bank accounts of the editor and publisher of El Nacional, Miguel Otero, for his alleged refusal to pay back a personal loan a decade ago.

Otero called the move an unfounded and blatant attempt at censorship.

A court later prohibited the newspaper from publishing violent images, including pictures of weapons, physical aggression and bloody or nude bodies. It also imposed a fine of 1 percent of El Nacional's 2009 earnings for printing in 2010 a photograph of a pile of bodies in a Caracas morgue. Otero hasn't revealed the amount, saying only that it was "a huge fine."

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Associated Press writer Frank Bajak in Lima, Peru, contributed to this report.


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