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Venezuela Applies Media Social Responsibility Law to Cable Channels

Mérida, January 22nd 2010 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – On Thursday, Venezuela’s National Telecommunications Commission (CONATEL) released a list of cable television companies that will be subject to the Law on Social Responsibility in Radio and Television, marking an expansion of the law’s jurisdiction over television broadcasters. 

The law, known by the acronym RESORTE, establishes standards for child and adult programming, prohibits inflammatory content such as incitement riot or assassinate the president, places limits on commercial advertising, and requires stations to broadcast important government announcements.

When the law was passed in 2004, it applied only to companies holding public broadcasting concessions. Last July, CONATEL announced that cable broadcasters would undergo review and be subject to the law if 70% of their content and overall operations could be considered “national,” meaning Venezuelan.

Minister for Public Works and Infrastructure Diosdado Cabello, who is also director of CONATEL, said on Thursday that 105 channels were classified as national, while 164 were classified as international. Over the past month, CONATEL invited all cable broadcasters to present their case for classification as either national or international, but only 24 companies responded, said Cabello.

“Starting today, channels should comply with the technical norms pertaining to their broadcasting schedules, and there will be sanctions for those who do not comply with the law,” said Cabello in the CONATEL head office in Caracas on Thursday.

“With these technical norms for subscription [cable] channels, Venezuelans will be able to watch television that is more pleasant, healthy, and without poison,” Cabello added.

One of Venezuela’s largest cable stations, Radio Caracas Television (RCTV), was among the companies that claimed to be international, but was classified as national on Thursday.

RCTV, owned by media mogul Marcel Granier, supported the coup d’état against President Chavez in April 2002 by broadcasting false and manipulated images, showing Hollywood movies and other unrelated material while the coup was underway, and by welcoming the installment of the coup regime.

RCTV’s twenty-year public broadcasting license expired in May 2007, and the government did not renew the license. RCTV continued to broadcast on cable television, outside of the jurisdiction of the RESORTE law, until now.

On Thursday, RCTV released a statement calling CONATEL’s measure “unconstitutional, because it establishes different, discriminatory, unjust, and arbitrary obligations for the channels whose content is mostly made in Venezuela.”

Also, the legal limit of one cut to commercials during each program threatens to “make the life of the company unsustainable,” RCTV stated. “It obligates us to change the financial, advertising, and programming structure,” the statement continued.

The company also claimed to have vetted its programming over the past month and taken several popular “telenovelas” or soap operas  off the air, in order to not be categorized as national.

In response to RCTV’s objections, National Assembly Legislator Manuel Villalba said RCTV “cannot be considered international when the RESORTE Law establishes that if the capital, the artists, the programming, and the technicians are Venezuelan, then the channel is national.”   

“Radio Caracas Television wants to provoke the government and disobey the Law on Social Responsibility in Radio and Television,” Villalba said, adding that if RCTV does so, it could face strict penalties of up to five years off the air. “You have some parameters and you have to submit yourself to the norms established by Venezuelan laws,” the legislator said.

The measure announced Thursday was part of an ongoing government effort to limit the concentration of media ownership, increase the ratios of state and community-owned media to privately-owned media, sanction broadcasting companies that violate the terms of their concessions, and favor small-scale independent producers.

Published on Jan 22nd 2010 at 7.37pm