CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — President Nicolas Maduro has a new villain as he campaigns to bring down Venezuela's spiraling crime: TV soap operas. He accuses them of spreading "anti-values" to young people by glamorizing violence, guns and drugs.
The criticism follows attacks last year by Maduro on violent video games and the Hollywood movie "Spider-Man."
On Monday night, his vice president, Jorge Arreaza, met with broadcast and pay TV operators to review the prime-time lineup, warning that they could be in violation of a 2004 law mandating "socially responsible" programming. The two sides will meet in a week with the aim of drafting an agreement on meeting those obligations.
It's unclear whether the government will take steps to restrict programming or impose harsher rules on the soap operas known as telenovelas, which are hugely popular across Latin America.
Analysts say arm-twisting is unlikely to reduce Venezuela's high homicide rate, which the United Nations ranks as the fifth worst globally, and they warn that Maduro's campaign could be used as an excuse to further gag media criticism of the government.
"It's a smoke screen to distract attention away from the real causes" of violence and crime, said Roberto Briceno Leon of the Venezuelan Observatory of Violence, which estimates the country's murder rate has quadrupled in 15 years of socialist rule.
Pressure on the government to crack down on crime heated up this month after former Miss Venezuela Monica Spear and her ex-husband were shot to death by robbers, with their 5-year-old daughter looking on.
The double slaying shocked even Venezuelans hardened by rampant bloodshed and put the government on the defensive on an issue that surveys say is the biggest concern among voters.
In his state of the union speech last week, Maduro took aim at a popular soap opera, "De todas maneras Rosa," produced by Venevision.
He accused the nation's biggest broadcaster of profiting from violence by celebrating the crimes of one of the melodrama's lead characters, Andreina Vallejo, a psychopathic former beauty queen who fatally poisons her own mother to hide the paternity of her son.
"Mama, everybody in the world knows that the relationship between parents and their children is completely accidental," a smiling Vallejo says as her mother gasps for breath in her daughter's arms.
Alberto Barrera Tyszka, the creator of several soap operas, said television only reflects the alarming levels of violence present in society and is already tightly regulated for content deemed unsuitable for minors. He said Maduro should turn his attention to the root causes of crime instead.