SANTIAGO - Venezuelan television network Globovision has announced it had accepted a purchase offer, and its sale would be finalized shortly after the presidential election on April 14. 

Globovision’s board of directors explained that they were selling the station because its operation had become both legally and financially impossible due to harassment from the government and the rampant inflation in Venezuela.

That is not good news. Globovision – a 24-hour news network – was the only station that opposed Hugo Chavez’s government, criticizing both the words and actions of the government and giving favorable coverage to the opposition. Its editorial position has sometimes been sensationalist, but it was also the only dissonant voice in the ocean of official television broadcasts. It was an honor for Globovision to be frequently accused of bias by Chavez, as was CNN. 

Globovision has been paying million-dollar fines for years to the media regulatory agency for its coverage. The network doesn’t have access to public advertising revenue, and the government even put pressure on private companies to pull advertising from the network. The government denied access to official press conferences and sources of official information, even going to the extreme of encouraging rioters who attacked the station. Since the beginning of 2013, the Institute of Press and Society, an NGO that investigates attacks on the freedom of the press, has already documented 21 attacks or cases of harassment against Globovision journalists.

As if that were not enough, last month the government did not include Globovision in the 11 stations that will be allowed to make the transition from analogue to digital transmission.

The network’s president, Guillermo Zuloaga, has been exiled in the United States since 2010, when he applied for political asylum after continual political and financial harassment. It was his son who announced the upcoming sale in a letter to the company’s employees.

Silencing the opposition

Zuloaga announced that the board of directors had accepted a buyout offer from Juan Domingo Cordero, a Venezuelan businessman, president of an insurance company and the former head of the Caracas stock exchange. Not much is known about his political opinions, but it is at least clear that he is not a voice of the opposition. His insurance company has many important contracts with government agencies. 

Globovision is the only television network that gave favorable coverage to Chavez’s opponent in the presidential race, Henrique Capriles, and it will continue giving him positive coverage until the day of the next election. But the bottom line is that the problem is much larger than Globovision, larger than a TV station, radio station or newspaper. 

The bottom line is that over the past 13 years the government of Hugo Chavez has used laws, regulations and threats to silence the opposition press, all the while constructing a state media empire. It’s not just that the press stopped covering the opposition politicians, but that the state-owned press prevents Venezuelans from knowing about environmental degradation, negligence and corruption, all of which have been on the rise throughout Venezuela due to the suppression of the free press.

One can’t even hope that the future government of Nicolas Maduro will change the situation. There’s little hope that Maduro will give Globovision digital rights, at least not under the current ownership, nor that he will stop harassing journalists who try to expose government wrongdoings.

But if Nicolas Maduro thought a little about his responsibility as a leader and his country, he would slowly start bringing back the freedom of the press that Venezuela so desperately needs.