|Riots inside Rodeo prison in June left at least 30 people dead [AFP]
Venezuelan authorities have fined the country's only remaining anti-government TV channel $2.16m for its coverage of prison riots, which regulators said fuelled "hate and intolerance".
The fine, imposed on Tuesday by the telecommunications regulator Conatel on Globovision, amounts to 7.5 per cent of the channel's revenues for the most recent fiscal year.
Pedro Maldonado, Conatel’s director, said that the private TV station was punished for "inciting hate and intolerance" in its coverage of the Rodeo prison riots in June, which left 30 people dead.
"We are sanctioning the editorial behaviour and the way they handled the news," Maldonado said, adding that the coverage led to "public anxiety" and appeared to be influenced "by political concerns".
Maria Fernanda Flores, Globovision's vice-president, said the fine was "unpayable" and would lead to "the collapse of the channel".
She said Globovision would appeal the decision and called it a violation of press freedom.
Guillermo Zuloaga, the TV channel’s majority owner, said: "I assure you I'm not going to let them shut us down for a fine.''
Zuloaga, who fled into exile last year after a court issued an arrest warrant on charges of usury and conspiracy, accused prosecutors of carrying out a vendetta on orders from Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and has sought asylum in the US.
"There's no doubt that President Chavez fears the independent media," he said.
The station has had frequent clashes with the Chavez government, which contends its journalists are "media terrorists".
The regulator director Maldonado said that the violations of the country's broadcast regulations resulted in part from repeatedly airing emotional interviews with prisoners' relatives.
He said that such interviews were played about 300 times and that audio was added to some of the tracks, including the sounds of gunfire.
He added that the channel had not picked up some appearances by government officials that were broadcast by state media.
Globovision, a 24-hour news network, has been the only anti-Chavez channel on the air since another opposition-aligned station, RCTV, was forced off cable and satellite TV in 2010.
Other privately owned TV channels have curbed their criticism of Chavez in the recent years.