Last week the Venezuelan government announced the beginning of the country’s migration from analog to open digital television (TDA, Television Digital Abierta). The migration was initially tested in Caracas and thirteen other cities have also been included in the “progressive migration” towards the new format. The announcement has generated controversy, as one of the channels not invited to be part of the migration is the opposition network Globovisión. Immediately after the announcement from Science and Technology Minister Jorge Arreaza, Globovisión accused the government of arbitrarily leaving them out of the new format. According to the channel, once the migration to the new system is completed and the analogue system phased out they will be effectively terminated (read the Globovisión communiqué here).

A communiqué from the opposition MUD coalition stated that “the beginning of Open Digital Television, far from being positive news of technological advancement, clearly aims to leave out Globovisión, once analogue signal transmission ceases.”

Many see the decision as a roundabout way of shutting down the last critical pro-opposition TV channel remaining, without having to face consequences similar to the RCTV closure in 2007. Globovisión current concession lasts until 2015 and it could potentially not renew it as it did in 2007 with RCTV. Globovision also still faces a court case opened against it by CONATEL in January (see our previous post here), that could result in fines that the channel’s lawyers claim they would be unable to pay. Both Globovision and RCTV have been criticized by government supporters for backing the 2002 coup against the democratically elected Chávez government and for “destabilizing” the country through anti-government media campaigns.

The government has responded by explaining that Globovision was not invited simply because it is not a national channel (the channel only has an open analogue signal in the central region and in Maracaibo and can be accessed via paid subscription in the rest of the country). According to Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation Jorge Arreaza, only TV channels with national reach, and those belonging to the National System of Public Media, are being invited to this first phase of implementation of open digital TV. Other regional channels and community television will also be invited in the future, but Arreaza did not provide information regarding the future status of private channels excluded this time around. For now, 8 public channels—VTV, Vive TV, 123 TV, Tves, Colombeia, Telesur, Antv, and VTV HD—and 3 private channels—Venevisión, Meridiano, and Televen—will be participating in the test period.

Carlos Correa—director of the nongovernmental organization Espacio Publico, which specializes in freedom of expression—argues that there is no reason for excluding any analogue channels because TDA allows for more than 192 signals. He suggests there is a double standard in the selection of the channels chosen for the TDA: “The private sports channel Meridiano, as well as some of the governmental channels, are not national channels but have been included.” Thus the exclusion of Globovisión is arbitrary and just one more example of the government’s harassment of the channel.

Arreaza suggested that by 2020 the migration from analogue to TDA. The switch from analogue to digital TV will be free for Venezuelans (as long as they do not have a subscription to paid cable TV) and each family will receive a decoding machine in order to receive the digital signal. However Correa points out that “the 700,000 machines bought by the government from Argentina cover less than 10% of the households with television sets nationwide.”