Globovisión, the Venezuelan TV channel that has been most critical of the Chávez government, will change owners in April, in a transaction that could drastically change its editorial policies.
The twenty-four-hour news channel will be sold after the April 14th presidential election to Juan Domingo Cordero, an insurance tycoon who is said to have a cozy relationship with Venezuelan government officials.
In a statement issued on Monday after rumors of the sale began circulating, Globovisión's current owner, Guillermo Zuloaga, said that he had to sell the channel because it could no longer withstand pressure on several fronts. That pressure, he said, included the Venezuelan government trying to force them off the air by denying them a renewal of their broadcasting license.
"We are unviable economically because our earnings no longer cover our costs. We can't even raise [employee] salaries enough to compensate for inflation and devaluation. We are unviable politically because because we are in a country that is totally polarized, and on the opposite side of a government that wants to see us fail. And we are unviable in the legal sense, because our broadcasting license is ending soon, and there is no will to renew it," Zuloaga wrote.
Hypothetically, the channel's fate might have changed if opposition candidate Henrique Capriles won the upcoming presidential election. Its broadcasting license, at the very least, would be guaranteed.
But Zuloaga said that the channel's financial situation was so dire that he decided not to risk it, and instead took the offer by Cordero. If nothing else, the move ensures there will be no mass firings of Globovisión staff.
Zuloaga did not say in the statement whether the channel's editorial policies would change when Cordero takes over after the elections, mentioning only that Mr. Cordero was a "successful man in financial circles" whom he had known for many years. Local media outlets also reported that Cordero comes from a wealthy Venezuelan family, and that he is actually the uncle of Zuloaga's wife.
Venezuelan media have also been quick to point out that Cordero has profited from deals with the Venezuelan government, including the nationalization of a bank in which he was a significant shareholder.
On Twitter, people who know Cordero have speculated that he could be a frontman in what essentially would amount to a government takeover of Globovisión.
Andres Canizales, a communications professor at the Andres Bello University in Caracas, said that the sale of Globovisión was an "ominous sign" for freedom of speech in Venezuela.
"The current situation [of Globovisión] puts great doubts on how Venezuela's opposition will fare in future elections," Canizales told local newspaper El Universal.
Canizales said that, in the run up to the last presidential elections, he conducted a study which demonstrated that Globovisión was the only TV channel that gave in-depth coverage to the campaign of opposition candidate Henrique Capriles. The other channels only gave Capriles an average of three minutes of airtime per day.
If Globovisión does change its editorial policies, it would not be the first critical voice to be silenced in Venezuela. In 2007, opposition-leaning TV channel RCTV was taken off the air after the Venezuelan government chose not to renew its broadcasting rights. Private TV channels Venevision and Televen have stayed on, but have largely moderated their political coverage for fear of being silenced.
Experts believe that a new Chavista administration, led by Nicolas Maduro, would not be likely to ease such strong-arm tactics.
Over the past decade, Venezuela's telecommunications commission has handed out fines against Globovisión on eight different occasions. Among the fines was a $2 million penalty that arose from the channel's critical coverage of the government's response to a major prison riot in 2010.
On multiple occasions the Venezuelan government has denied waging a campaign against Globovisión. According to the government officials, the country's telecommunications commission was only implementing national laws aimed at stopping local media from "inciting hate" and disrespect for public authorities.
Some experts, however, believe otherwise.
"There are direct and indirect mechanisms to force the sale of a channel," Carlos Correa of the Venezuelan NGO Espacio Público told the El Nacional newspaper. "In this case indirect mechanisms were applied, because the government created a situation of such heavy economic pressure that it left [Globovisión's owner] with no way to subsist."