"If the channel changes its editorial line after this sale, Venezuelans will have even more limited information in the coming weeks before the elections," Vivanco added.
In print, two major national newspapers, El Nacional and El Universal, remain highly critical of the government, but in the all-important television sector Globovision was that last major critical voice. Four private channels exist in Venezuela, all ostensibly neutral, while the government has four state-run channels and the regional news network Telesur.
"This is the only broadcast media in the country that informs us accurately," said Noral Villereal, a 53-year-old insurance broker, about Globovision. "I think we're going to be left without any kind of trustworthy news."
Opposition presidential candidate Henrique Capriles, who lost to Chavez in October elections, is already at a severe disadvantage in the April 14 vote. The government has the national treasury of an oil-rich nation at its disposal and takes over the public airwaves at will.
The Zuloaga family owns 80 percent of Globovision. The other 20 percent belonged to a banker but was expropriated years ago by Chavez. Zuloaga had been living outside of Venezuela since 2010 after a court ordered his arrest for allegedly illegally storing 24 automobiles at one of his homes.
It had become the lone opposition channel that year after RCTV was forced off cable and satellite networks. Its public airwaves license had been stripped three years earlier.
Carlos Lauria of the Committee to Protect Journalist said the slow strangling of Globovision followed a pattern nationally.
"Over the last 14 years the Venezuelan press has been gradually weakened and debilitated by an array of laws, restrictions, regulatory measures and judicial decisions that have really weakened the ability of the private media to report the news without official interference," he said.
Associated Press writers Fabiola Sanchez and Vivian Sequera contributed to this report.
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