The Special Law on Subscription Television is
now before the Venezuelan National Assembly. Its contents will be
debated by the national deputies and could be on the statute book by
the end of July 2009. They'll be like salivating dogs gathered around
a juicy bone when the western media gets wind of the new Cable TV law
under discussion. Once again, they'll be unhinged in
their reactions with the same tired declarations – that President
Chavez is dictatorial, harnassing more power to
silence his critics. (Interesting that these attacks often carry a
footnote, "Venezuela is the world's 4th largest supplier of petroleum
in the world). The so called "Liberals" on the East Coast of the U.S.
along with the "human rights" orgs, freedom of the press advocates and
some NGOs will join the chorus, valiantly crying out in defense of
"free speech". Their dwindling audience has seen this circus so many
times they begin to nod even as the contortionist twists his wordy knot
on the Washington Post and the trapezist leaps the platform of Reporters Without Borders,
in another truth-defying performance. Their mundane predictability even
stifles debate on the issue, raising questions only about the
motivation and sanity of the critics.
When passed, the new law will grant
powers to CONATEL (similar to the FCC in the U.S.) to regulate all
subscription channels entering Venezuelan homes either by cable or
satellite. Conatel will have the legal power to "authorize, suspend and
revoke" the broadcast licenses of both, TV and radio channels, carried
by cable and satellite. Before we examine this new Cable TV law and the
related uproar, it's important that we find context for the discussion
in similar laws in other countries. There is no finer example for this
exercise than in the U.S. So we'll review the FCC, it's authority,
functions and relation to government before moving on to Venezuela.
Sound boring? What's about to happen with the new Cable TV law in
Venezuela is anything but.
FCC, THE COMMUNICATIONS ACT AND CABLE TV IN THE U.S.
FCC structure and powers: Venezuela's CONATEL is similar to the FCC in the U.S. and their Organic Telecommunications Law is comparable to the Communications Act in the U.S..
The US media law was passed by an act of Congress in 1934. It
is divided into Titles and all U.S. media is subject to FCC
jurisdiction and the Communications Act except for Government radio
stations. The five members of the FCC are appointed by the President
and approved by Senate and the President designates one member to serve
as chairman. Title 3 of the act defines the powers of the FCC and
prohibits it from "exercising censorship over broadcast stations" but
also regulates content (e.g. they prohibit broadcasting of "obscene or
indecent language"). Title 3 also requires broadcast stations "to
afford equal opportunity to candidates seeking political office, and
formally included provisions for rebuttal of controversial viewpoints
under the contested Fairness Doctrine."
reality is that the FCC uses these regulations selectively, as
demonstrated by any cursory review of television and radio programming
in the U.S. Among the FM radio "shockjocks", mid-day soaps and the New
York prime time sitcoms obscene language and other indecent content
is the rule rather than the exception.
The FCC's "Fairness Doctrine" is clearly a ruse. This can be seen in
the absence in media of any real opponents of politicians in the
Republican and Democrat political parties. For example, when have any
members of socialist or communist political parties, running for
political office, been given "equal opportunity" to challenge insider
politicians on radio and television in the U.S.? Instead, they are
nearly always subjects of ridicule, dismissed as "radicals" if
acknowledged at all. Another example is the FCC rule that broadcasters
are required to disclose their funding sources and sponsors. Sounds
good, sounds simple. But any attempt to have this rule enforced against
an offending media corporation is lost in the costly, complicated
litigation involved. For example, visit the FCC case of Armstrong Williams who
didn't disclose his funding source (Dept. of Education) when he was
promoting George Bush's No Child Left Behind program. The case ended
with a wrist-slap of $40,000 which was surely dwarfed by the lawyers'
fees alone. Just reading this legalistic tripe is an eye-crossing
The sophistry of the "Fairness
Doctrine" is also seen in the dearth of any real ideological or
political debate on U.S. radio or television. Government tongues like
ABC, CBS and NBC limit debate to carefully crafted shows like "Meet the
Press" and "60 Minutes", creating an illusion of media dissent but
the foundations of the political/economic system are never
challenged. Atrocities like Abu Graib and the rape and murder of a 14
year old Iraqi girl and her family by a U.S. soldier get attention when
they can no longer be ignored (often thanks to the alternative media on
the Internet) – but the corporate media has never really allowed the
mounting of a serious challenge to the underlying assumptions
of capitalism, imperialism, war and colonisation.
At one time, the FCC adopted the "Seven Station Rule" which "limited
the number of stations that could be owned by a single corporate
entity." A mouthpiece for the U.S. broadcast media (Museum of Broadcast Communications), tries
to explain the pretzel logic that dissolved the Seven Station Rule and
gave complete control to a handful of media moguls:
Cross-Ownership [FCC] restrictions dealt with similar problems and
monitored multiple ownership of media outlets–newspapers, radio
stations, television stations–in regions and locations. Rules
restricting multiple ownership of cable and broadcast television were
also applied in specific situations. However, as more radio and
television stations were licensed, restrictions limiting owners to few
stations, a limitation originally meant to protect diversity of
viewpoint in the local market, made less sense to the commission. In
1985, recognizing greater market competition, the commission relaxed
ownership rules. In the years that followed, restrictions on
Ascertainment, Limits on Commercials, Ownership, Anti-Trafficking,
Duopoly and Syndication and Financial Interest Rules were also eased.
Cable TV: Finally, Title VI of the Communications Act gave the FCC regulatory power over Cable TV in 1992.
"Many of the alterations have been in
response to the numerous technical changes in communications that have
taken place during the FCC's history, including the introduction of
television, satellite and microwave communications, cable television,
cellular telephone, and PCS (personal communications) services."
In conclusion, how is
CONATEL and their authority to control program content and
ownership in Venezuela any different than the FCC and their authority
to control the same in the U.S.? How is their authority to control
Cable TV different? Let's take a look at the new law being debated
before the National Assembly (congress) in Caracas.
CONATEL, THE ORGANIC TELECOMMUNICATIONS ACT AND CABLE TV IN VENEZUELA
The new law being debated in the Venezuela National Assembly would
bring Cable TV, for the first time, under the authority of the Consejo
Nacional de Telecomunicaciones (CONATEL) and related broadcasting laws
and regulations. All well and good, but what laws and regulations will
govern the behavior of Cable TV channels? Before we look at them, let's
learn a little about CONATEL.
CONATEL: This is
the authority in Venezuela for regulating broadcaset media. Generally,
their responsibilities parallel those of the FCC in the U.S. Up until
the year 2000, audiovisual broadcasts were regulated by CONATEL under
the Telecommunications Law of 1940 which was established
before television came to Venezuela. In order "to adapt to the
technological, social, and cultural changes witnessed in the latter
half of the 20th century", Venezuelan lawmakers passed the Organic Telecommunications Act of 2000. One of the most important laws affecting Cable Television will be the Law of Social Responsibility (LSR).
Law of Social Responsibility in Radio and Television (LSR): As part of this initiative, the legislature passed the LSR in 2003 which, according to the Venezuelan Information Office, is:
"… intended to uphold freedom of
expression and information, support parents by limiting daytime media
content deemed inappropriate for children and adolescents, encourage
the broadcast of more educational programming on TV and radio,
guarantee citizen participation in the communications sector, and
promote growth within the country's communications industry, among
The LSR is based upon the principles
of "freedom to express ideas, opinions, and thoughts, free and plural
communication, the prohibition of prior censorship, responsibility,
democratization, participation, social responsibility, social
solidarity, sovereignty, national security, free competition, and the
radio-electric spectrum as a public domain." The LSR guarantees:
- Legal means for families and the general population
- Respect for freedom of expression and interpretation, without censorship.
- Effective exercise and respect for human rights.
- An increase in social and cultural
information and material geared to children and adolescents that could
lead the progressive and comprehensive development of their
personality, aptitudes, mental and physical capacity, tolerance for
others, and social conscience.
- The encouragement of domestic and domestic independent productions.
- Balance between the duties, rights, and interests of people, radio and television service providers, and related parties.
- Dissemination of Venezuelan cultural values.
- Needs of hearing-impaired individuals.
- Promotion of an active participation of the citizenry.
Implications for Cable/Satellite TV: Until
now, only open air broadcast television stations came under the control
of CONATEL, the LSR and related laws. Unlike satellite & cable TV
in the United States and neighboring Colombia which is
regulated, Cable/satellite TV stations in Venezuela were free to
broadcast what and when they wanted until now. The new law before
the National Assembly would place all satellite and cable television
stations in Venezuela under the same laws that regulate all television
channels, public, private and open air.
Under the new law, all channels,
including those coming from abroad would be subject to regulation and
CONATEL will have the power to ban these channels from broadcasting if
they have in any way contravened Venezuelan broadcasting laws.
This will also bring local channels,
which broadcast exclusively on cable and satellite, back into the legal
framework of Venezuela. For example, they will not be able to change
programming at the drop of a hat and will be obliged to play the
National Anthem "Gloria al Bravo Pueblo" at 6am, noon and midnight as
laid out in the broadcasting laws.
After the nonrenewal
of RCTV's open air license, it has been broadcasting on cable and since
then, it has never broadcast the National Anthem again. The regional
channels will also fall into this category and it remains to be seen if
cable stations will be legally required to broadcast Presidential
If the legislature passes this new Venezuelan law it will be sending a
message to media owners: The privilege of broadcasting in Venezuela
also carries the responsibility to respect the institutions, history
and culture of the country.
Reaction to the new law – predictable: Once
again the argument of violating freedom of speech and expression will
be hauled out of the closet to try and make out that we are living in a
dictatorship in Venezuela. But similar laws already exist in the United
States and in neighboring Colombia and no one appears to complain about
them. Why? Because there are no real opposition channels broadcasting
in either country.
As this news has only just been made
public, we await the outcry from the Venezuelan opposition, the
capitalist media, human rights groups, Reporters Without Borders and
others with their group agendas. Their motivation can be understood
simply: From 1998 forward the wealthy elites, here and abroad, have
been steadily losing their grip on the laws, institutions, economy,
petroleum, culture, news, entertainment and most of all, the minds of
the people of Venezuela. The Venezuelan opposition parties are joined
at the hip with their paymasters in Washington. They and their
offspring worship the values spawned in Hollywood and New York
media. For generations, they abandoned traditional Venezuelan values,
love of country, appreciation for our history and our people. Sadly, by
adopting the customs, values and lifestyles of their colonizers, they
have undergone a basic group personality change that is difficult if
not impossible to escape. If President Chavez walked on water today,
they'd attribute it to demon-possession and any new law that is passed
under his administration will be drawn and quartered with whatever
frenetic ideas that happen to poke the brain of the latest wannabee
"journalist" trying to find fame as a writer.
None of their typical attacks will
stand under reasoned scrutiny or the facts presented herewith. But that
won't stop the capitalist print and broadcast media from hammering the
same old rusty nails into the same 'bored', unrelentingly. One positive
thing in this opposition to democracy and free speech is that their
repetitious pounding has become background noise for more and more
people who aren't listening anymore.
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