Anti-Chavez TV channel switched off

Venezualan cable television providers stopped transmitting a channel critical of President Hugo Chavez yesterday, after the government said it had failed to comply with new regulations requiring the socialist leader's speeches be televised on cable.

Radio Caracas Television, an anti-Chavez channel known as RCTV that switched to cable and satellite television in 2007 after the government refused to renew its over-the-air licence, disappeared from TV sets shortly after midnight. Hours earlier, Diosdado Cabello, the director of Venezuela's state-run telecommunications agency, had said several local channels on cable had breached broadcasting laws and should be removed from the airwaves.

Cabello warned cable operations they could find themselves in jeopardy if they keep showing those channels. "They must comply with the law, and they cannot have a single channel that violates Venezuelan laws as part of their programming," he said. Several channels have not shown Mr Chavez's televised speeches when he orders all media to air them, a requirement under regulations approved last month by the telecommunications agency, Cabello said. RCTV did not broadcast a speech by the President to his political supporters during a rally on Saturday.

The station's removal from cable and satellite television prompted a cacophony of protests in Caracas neighbourhoods as Chavez opponents leant out apartment windows to bang on pots and pans. Others shouted epithets and drivers joined in, honking car horns.

"They want to silence RCTV," said Miguel Angel Rodriguez, host of the channel's most popular talk show. "But they won't be able to. RCTV is embedded in the hearts of all Venezuelans."

In August, Chavez's government forced 32 radio stations and two small TV stations off the air, saying owners had failed to renew their broadcast licences; other licences were said to be no longer valid because they had been granted long before to owners now dead. Officials said they planned to take more stations off the air.

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