Venezuelan officials are readying to launch a new television station that will replace the nation's oldest private broadcaster. In Caracas, VOA's Brian Wagner reports officials have ordered the private channel off the air over allegations of backing a 2002 coup.

Pro-government supporters and community groups began erecting stages and audiovisual equipment early Sunday across Caracas to celebrate the launch of the new state-backed TV channel. Organizers hung banners that hailed the creation of Venezuelan Social Television, and said President Hugo Chavez guarantees the freedom of expression.

Officials say Venezuelan Social Television is to begin broadcasting at midnight, using the same frequency occupied by Radio Caracas Television, the nation's oldest private station.

Saturday, tens of thousands of RCTV supporters marched to the private station's headquarters to condemn what they see as a government attempt to silence opposition views.

Government officials say the decision not to renew RCTV's license is fully backed by the constitution and laws on social responsibility for media outlets in the country. They also say the new channel will help democratize the media and enhance the freedom of speech.

The director of social responsibility laws for the Communications Ministry, Maria Alejandra Diaz, chastised some unnamed media outlets for suggesting the decision against RCTV was unlawful.

Diaz says journalists and broadcasters have a social responsibility to avoid calls to crime, hate, and discrimination.

Scores of police and military troops are stationed across the Venezuelan capital to guard against possible disturbances.

A delegation from the U.S.-based Inter-American Press Society traveled to Caracas this weekend to express the group's concerns about the decision against RCTV. The chair of the group's press freedom committee, Gonzalo Marroquin, said many voices in Venezuela are being excluded.

Marroquin says the media environment should embrace diversity and different opinions in order to strengthen democracy. He also expressed disappointment that President Chavez has refused to listen to appeals in the case.

RCTV has rejected government allegations that it backed a 2002 coup against President Chavez. Executives for the station have filed legal challenges to the government's decision and have vowed to continue fighting the shut down after 53 years on the air.