CARACAS, Feb 20 (Reuters) - Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro threatened on Thursday to expel television network CNN from the country if it did not “rectify” the way it has covered deadly political protests.
At least five people have been killed in unrest that the government blames on opposition-led “fascists” and that its rivals blame on the security forces.
Local television networks have provided almost no live coverage of the protests against Maduro, which began last month over a wide range of complaints including inflation, violent crime, corruption and shortages of basic products.
As result, many opposition supporters have turned to CNN Espanol, available to some cable TV subscribers, which in recent days has been the only television to offer live broadcasts of opposition press conferences.
“I’ve asked the (information) minister to tell CNN we have started the administrative process to remove them from Venezuela if they don’t rectify (their behavior),” Maduro said on state TV. “Enough! I won’t accept war propaganda against Venezuela.”
“We do not have an official comment at this time on President Maduro’s most recent comments about CNN,” Bridget Leininger, a CNN spokeswoman, said in an email to Reuters.
The only other way for Venezuelans to see opposition leaders speaking live is via streaming websites over stuttering broadband.
Maduro has already drawn criticism from press freedom groups including Reporters Without Borders by ordering a Colombia-based network, NTN24, taken off cable in Venezuela after it showed live coverage of violence that started last week.
The communication minister said NTN24 had been “focused on overthrowing the constitutional government and stirring up hatred and violence among Venezuelans.”
Maduro regularly uses state media to promote his image as the heir of Hugo Chavez’s self-styled socialist revolution. He has used nationally televised speeches called “cadenas” that override all open access programming.
Twitter and other social media are now important sources for live updates on the daily melees between rock-throwing protesters and the security forces. (Additional reporting by Deisy Buitrago; Editing by Brian Ellsworth and Ken Wills)