CARACAS, Venezuela – Venezuelan cable television providers stopped transmitting a channel critical of President Hugo Chavez on Sunday, after the government cited noncompliance with new regulations requiring the socialist leader's speeches be televised on cable.
RCTV was yanked from cable and satellite programming just hours after Diosdado Cabello, director of Venezuela's state-run telecommunications agency, said several local channels carried by cable television have breached broadcasting laws and should be removed from the airwaves.
Cabello warned cable operations on Saturday evening that 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 Chavez's televised speeches when he orders all media to air them — a requirement under new 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 early on Saturday.
The station's removal from cable and satellite television prompted a cacophony of protests in Caracas neighborhoods as Chavez opponents leaned out apartment windows to bang on pots and pans. Others shouted epithets and drivers joined in, honking car horns.
"They want to silence RCTV's voice," said Miguel Angel Rodriguez, the channel's most popular talk show host. "But they won't be able to because RCTV is embedded in the hearts of all Venezuelans."
The U.S. Embassy in Caracas expressed concern about the decision.
"Access to information is a cornerstone of democracy and provides a foundation for global progress. By restricting yet again the Venezuelan people's access to RCTV broadcasts, the Venezuelan government continues to erode this cornerstone," Embassy spokeswoman Robin Holzhauer said.
Venezuela's telecommunications agency has said in the past week that under new rules, two dozen local cable channels including RCTV must carry government programming when officials deem the measure necessary, just like channels on the open airwaves already do. Chavez often uses the measure to force all the country's TV channels and radio stations to broadcast his speeches.
Cabello said Saturday that other violations committed by cable channels include failing to warn viewers of sexual and violent content as well as broadcasting more than two hours of soap operas during the afternoon, which should be mostly dedicated to children programming.
He did not specify which TV channels have purportedly violated the law, but RCTV said it was the target. It accused the agency of pressuring cable providers to drop channels that are critical of the government.
The agency "doesn't have any authority to give the cable service providers this order," RCTV said in a statement. "The government is inappropriately pressuring them to make decisions beyond their responsibilities."
In denying RCTV a renewal of its over-the-air broadcast license, Chavez accused the station of plotting against his government and supporting a failed 2002 coup.
In August, Chavez's government forced 32 radio stations and two small TV stations off the air, saying some owners had failed to renew their broadcast licenses while other licenses were no longer valid because they had been granted long ago to owners who are now dead. Officials said they planned to take more stations off the air.
Government figures say that as of 2008 about 37 percent of Venezuelan homes received cable television.
Associated Press Writer Ian James contributed to this report.