Venezuela, worried by murder rate, takes aim at TV soap operas

By Diego Ore

CARACAS (Reuters) - President Nicolas Maduro will urge representatives of Venezuela's television stations on Monday to change what he calls a culture of violence glamorized by the media.

Voters routinely cite violent crime as their top concern. In the latest case to put pressure on the government, gunmen shot dead a former Miss Venezuela and her ex-husband in front of their young daughter.

Maduro, who narrowly won a presidential election last April to succeed his late mentor Hugo Chavez, has accused TV stations - especially popular soap operas, or "telenovelas" - of glamorizing guns, drugs and gangsters.

"We are going to build a culture of peace," he said last week, summoning representatives of local terrestrial and cable channels to the Miraflores presidential palace on Monday.

"They transmit negative values of death, drugs, arms, violence and treachery and everything bad that a human can be," he said.

The government has launched about 20 campaigns to improve security in recent years, but the murder rate has continued to worsen. According to official figures, the number of homicides has risen by 105 percent since Chavez won power 15 years ago.

A new national police force has been inaugurated, and the socialist authorities have also taken aim at products they say contribute to a culture of violence. Five years ago, Chavez banned the manufacture, importation and distribution of violent video games and toys.

Venezuela's official homicide rate late year was 39 per 100,000 inhabitants. Local non-government organizations put the figure at nearly twice that for a total of 24,000 deaths.

This month's murder of the beauty queen and telenovela actress, Monica Spear, prompted an emergency meeting between politicians to discuss crime, and a rare handshake between Maduro and his opposition rival Henrique Capriles - their first since last April's bitter election standoff.

Critics say the latest version of the government's anti-crime plans do not tackle root causes, such as widespread impunity for criminals, largely due to a creaking and corrupt judicial system, and complicity by some poorly paid police.

(Reporting by Diego Ore; Writing by Daniel Wallis; Editing by Brian Ellsworth)

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