NEW: President Nicolas Maduro says CNN can stay in the country and report
NEW: Maduro calls on CNN to "rectify" its reporting
Maduro calls the network's coverage "war propaganda"
Tensions are running high amid anti-government protests
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro told a CNN reporting team Friday that it could continue reporting in the South American country, a day after the government revoked or denied press credentials for CNN journalists.
Earlier, Maduro had said he would expel CNN if it did not “rectify” its coverage of anti-government protests. During a news conference aired live on state-run TV, Maduro reversed his early position, saying CNN could stay.
Following the more than two-hour news conference, officials told CNN that its journalists would be issued credentials to report within the country.
It was a bizarre end to the news conference that saw Maduro call out CNN, Fox News and other U.S.-based media, claiming they encouraged opposition forces against the government.
“Where is CNN en Español. There they are. …They do not talk about anything except Venezuela. One hundred percent of the programming until today has been Venezuela. No other Latin American news but Venezuela,” Maduro said.
“…They’re calling for civil war, hatred and are lying to the world about what is happening in Venezuela. This comes back to the owner of CNN. He is the one who sets the guidelines. And they work with the State Department, and from there they use that network to foment a pretend war among Venezuelans and to say internationally there should be intervention in Venezuela.”
Maduro called on CNN to rectify its reporting.
“I know they want to stay in Venezuela. Do it. Cover Venezuela. Cover it in a balanced way. When they call you and say report THIS, find a balance,” he said. “A balance based on respect for Venezuelan laws. He who does not respect the laws will not be on Venezuelan airwaves.”
CNN correspondents Rafael Romo and Karl Penhaul, and CNN en Español’s Osmary Hernandez were often shown prominently in cutaway shots during the state TV broadcast.
During the broadcast, Maduro invited a question from Penhaul, who asked about the status of an investigation into the theft of CNN’s television equipment at gunpoint this week. The crew had been covering an anti-government protest when they were robbed.
Maduro assured Penhaul the incident was being investigated.
“We expect that you will be able to go with the loss recovered,” Maduro said.
Anti-government protests have become a daily occurrence in the country, and clashes with security forces or pro-government supporters have resulted in at least eight deaths, officials said.
In a televised speech on Thursday, Maduro said CNN was not showing “the people working, studying, building the homeland.”
“Enough war propaganda. I do not accept war propaganda against Venezuela. If they do not rectify things, get out of Venezuela, CNN, get out,” Maduro said, to applause from his pro-government audience.
“Fuera! Fuera!” people in the crowd shouted – “Out! Out!”
Hours later, government officials notified seven journalists for CNN International and CNN en Español that their press accreditation had been denied or revoked.
CNN teams from outside Venezuela were told to book flights back to their home countries.
Maduro described CNN’s journalists with some of the same adjectives he uses for his political opponents.
“A group of fascists with their aggressions want to take us away from peace,” Maduro said. “They are not going to do that. And we are going to show them.”
When members of the CNN International team were told their credentials were denied, they were asked several times when they would be leaving the country.
While the journalists were asked to leave, CNN International and CNN en Español continue to broadcast in Venezuela.
CNN has repeatedly asked for a meeting with officials, and a CNN reporter has been invited to a news conference where Maduro will speak later Friday afternoon. CNN en Español’s correspondent in Caracas was also invited to the event.
“CNN has reported both sides of the tense situation in Venezuela, even with very limited access to government officials,” CNN en Español said in a statement, adding that at the time its credentials were revoked, CNN was seeking an interview with the president.
“We hope the government will reconsider its decision. Meanwhile, we will continue reporting on Venezuela in the fair, accurate and balanced manner we are known for.”
A top legislative leader for the ruling party said the government will investigate the allegations against CNN, and will not “tremble in acting against those who make an attempt against the motherland.”
The move to revoke CNN’s press credentials comes after weeks of protests that mark the largest demonstrations Maduro has faced in his 11 months in power following the death of President Hugo Chavez. Government authorities and opposition leaders have blamed each other for deaths resulting from the violence.
Leopoldo Lopez, an opposition leader in Venezuela, faces arson and conspiracy charges in connection with the unrest. Lopez, who has denied the charges, is being held in a military prison outside Caracas.
Venezuela also expelled three U.S. diplomats this week, accusing them of conspiring to bring down the government – an accusation that the State Department has repeatedly denied.