On December 20, Venezuela's National Assembly (AN) passed a new Law of Social Responsibility in Radio, Television and Digital Media. Contrary to harsh criticism, it doesn't impose censorship. It expands on existing legislation to promote responsible programming, including online. More on it below.
Whatever socially responsible laws the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) led government passes, unfair criticism follows.
On December 20, Council on Foreign Relations International Affairs Fellow in Residence Joel D. Hirst called it an "attack on freedom of speech," saying:
It "place(s) severe restrictions on the Internet, centralizing access under the control of a government server. They require the airwaves as a 'public good' and set in place harsh penalties for arcane and obtuse violations of the law."
False, like more examples below.
On December 24, New York Times writer Simon Romero (a longtime Chavez critic) headlined, "New Laws in Venezuela Aim to Limit Dissent," saying:
"The National Assembly has approved a sweeping set of laws that impose penalties for spreading political dissent on the Internet," quoting opposition legislator Ismael Garcia calling it "a new dictatorial model."
Despite doing valuable work, Human Rights Watch (HRW) serves wealth and power interests, especially in areas of foreign policy. George Soros and the US State Department were involved in its founding, and its funding is largely corporate, including from the Ford Foundation, Rockefeller Foundation, Carnegie Corporation of New York, Time Warner, and wealthy private donors.
Notably, HRW failed to denounce the Bush administration's failed 2002 anti-Chavez coup or the successful 2004 one ousting Haiti's Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
It's unsurprising that on December 22, it headlined, "Venezuela: Legislative Assault on Free Speech, Civil Society," saying:
New Venezuelan laws "pose serious threats to free speech and the work of civil society." The new media law "introduce(s) sweeping restrictions on internet traffic, reinforce(s) existing restrictions on radio and television content, and allow(s) the government to terminate broadcasting licenses on arbitrary grounds."
Absolutely false. HRW knows it, and quotes passages from the new law refuting its own claim. More on the new law below.
On December 24, Dow Jones Newswires (Wall Street Journal publisher) headlined, "Flurry of New Laws Strengthens Chavez's Grip on Venezuela," saying:
The new media law "bans the broadcasting of anything that may 'foment anxiety in the public or disturb public order,' which international organizations say could clamp down on free speech....The only thing left is for a new law renaming everyone Hugo."
The corporate funded Committee to Protect Journalists "condemn(ed)" Venezuela's new media law," saying:
It "could promote further censorship and seriously limit freedom of expression in Venezuela. (It's) a clear attempt by the Venezuelan government to further its clampdown on critics and independent media."
It does nothing of the kind. Most countries, including America, have laws and regulations setting acceptable media standards, especially for radio and television reaching large audiences, including children to prevent their exposure to offensive material.
Jurist Legal News & Research was more measured headlining, "Venezuela passes law banning certain Internet content," saying:
"The law expands 2004 restrictions on television, radio and print media to Internet and electronic subscription services content (by banning content) that promotes unrest among citizens or challenges legally established authorities."
Media violators face increased fines, repeat offenders possible revocation of the licenses. Critics argue it restricts free speech and constitutionally guaranteed rights. Honest observers disagree, saying it promotes responsible programming.
Venezuela's 2004 Law of Social Responsibility for Radio and Television (LSR)
It defined and "establish(ed) the social responsibility of radio and television service providers, related parties, national independent producers, and users in the process of broadcasting and reception of messages, promoting a democratic equilibrium between their duties, rights, and interests, with the goal of seeking social justice and contributing to citizenship formation, democracy, peace, human rights, education, culture, public health, and the social and economic development of the Nation, in conformity with constitutional norms and principles, legislation for the holistic protection of boys, girls, and adolescents, education, social security, free competition, and the Organic Telecommunications Law."
- freedom of expression without censorship;
- judicial mechanisms for families and the whole population to develop socially responsibly as an audience;
- the exercise and respect for human rights;
- an emphasis on social and cultural information and material for children and adolescents to aid their development and social conscience;
- the encouragement of domestic independent productions;
- a balance between public duties, rights, and interests and those of radio and television providers as well as related parties;
- dissemination of Venezuelan cultural values;
- meeting the needs of the hearing-impaired; and
- promoting active citizen participation in affairs of the country.
Nonconformance to these standards may result in fines, denial of broadcast spaces, suspension or revocation of broadcast licenses, or refusal to renew the right to continue broadcasting. Specific violations include:
- transmitting messages that illegally promote, apologize for, or incite disobedience to the law;
- transmitting material that impedes the actions of citizen security organisms and the judicial branch necessary to guarantee everyone the right to life, health and personal integrity;
- transmitting propaganda or advertisements deemed lawless under the LSR code of conduct; and
- noncompliance with the obligation to offer free spaces to the State, including the Executive Branch's Information and Communication Ministry.
Violations may result in license suspensions for up to 72 hours when messages transmitted are intended to:
- incite war;
- adversely affect public order or promote crime; or
- incite actions detrimental to Venezuela's national security.
A license may be revoked for up to five years when a penalty for any of the above violations is repeated following suspension, and within five years of the first penalty.
Yet Venezuela's media are notably free, open and corporate dominated, especially its five leading private TV companies, controlling over 80% of the market and majority of viewers. In addition, all major newspapers are corporate-owned. TVes public broadcasting and Caracas headquartered TeleSur (the Latin American terrestrial and satellite TV broadcaster) reach much smaller audiences.
Venezuela's New Media Law
It enforces digital as well as conventional media social responsibility by "guarantee(ing) respect for freedom of expression and information, without censorship, within the limits of a social and democratic state." It creates a Television Programming Commission to establish ways and conditions for assigning air waves space to national independent producers "with the aim of guaranteeing the democratization of the radio electric spectrum, pluralism, freedom of creation, and....effective conditions for competition."
A comparable Radio Programming Commission is also established under the same mandate. On January 5, Venezuela Analysis published answers to four questions provided by the Ministry of Communication and Information. The full text may be accessed through the following link:
(1) How does the new law change the old one?
Besides "radio and television, Internet media are added as subject to regulation, (not to) limit web sites or services available, (but) to ensure the responsible use of this important tool. Currently, the law provides for sanctions against those who use the Internet to incite hate, criminal activity, war propaganda, alterations in public order, homicide; or advocate to disobey constitutional authority." The new law also requires broadcast "of at least 50% of nationally-produced television programming during prime time hours."
(2) Why weren't these provisions included in the 2004 law?
It regulated television and radio, not the Internet. As a result, sites like "Noticiero Digital....published numerous articles and messages inciting violence, rape, criminal activities and even the assassination of public figures." Often calls are heard "for the Armed Forces to revolt against the government or even to assassinate President Chavez on different web sites, blogs, Twitter or Facebook. These are dangerous actions that no civilized society can permit."
In fact, they're prohibited in America where anti-government propaganda intended to incite public hostility, violence, or rebellion would subject abusers to charges of sedition or treason.
Seditious conspiracy under Section 2384 of the US Code, Title 18 states:
"If two or more persons in any State or Territory (of the US)....conspire to overthrow, put down, or to destroy by force the (elected) Government of the United States, or to levy war against them, or to oppose by force the authority thereof, or by force to seize, take, or possess any property of the United States contrary to the authority thereof, they shall each be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 20 years, or both."
Article 3, Section 3 of the US Constitution defines treason that may subject offenders to capital punishment if found guilty, stating:
"Treason against the United States shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort."
Courts would then decide guilt or innocence of actions such as the following:
- insurrection or rebellion involving armed groups, creating a reasonable expectation that force or violence may be used against the sitting government;
- mutiny or unlawfully taking over command of the US government, or any part of it, including the military;
- sabotage to include damaging or tampering with any national defense material or utilities;
- sedition as covered above, including inflammatory TV, radio, print or digital material intended to incite rebellion against the government;
- subversion defined as free speech gone too far, including transmitting blatantly false information aiding enemy or opposition forces;
- syndicalism organizing of a political party or group advocating the violent overthrow of the government; and
- terrorist systematic use of violence or threats thereof to intimidate or coerce the government or whole societies by targeting innocent noncombatants.
(3) How will the new law affect social networks like Twitter and Facebook?
It prohibits censorship, including for social networks like Twitter, Facebook and others.
(4) Do other countries have Internet regulations?
Many, in fact, including America where "the President can disconnect all Internet services for up to four months based on" perceived cyber-attacks, true or false. Web sites may also be closed, and "all content inciting violence against individuals or criminal activity is strictly prohibited on commercial websites."
On January 13, National Assembly deputy William Lara headlined on Venezuela Analysis, "Clearing doubts About Venezuela's New Media Law." Access the full text through the following link:
In Q & A format, he affirmed no freedom of expression limitations in the new law, saying it "neither limits nor restricts freedom of information." The disinformation about the law is entirely spurious. Other questions related to:
- corporate media disapproval: their "campaign (of) lies" demonized and criminalized it unfairly;
- the effect on live calls from listeners: no restrictions are imposed as before;
- criticism of public officials: slandering, injuring or vilifying any citizen is forbidden because the "Constitution protects human dignity. We cannot allow a third party, using a television program, to insult another human being;
- on-air responsibility: both hosts and callers share it;
- time table for implementing regulations: "The law allows the TV and radio stations (time) to adjust themselves....we're not trying to run roughshod over any sector of the country;"
- potential excessiveness of sanctions: National Commission of Radio and Television (Conatel) must abide by provisions of the law in imposing sanctions; it "establishes the causes that can determine a sanction;"
- need to enhance the Constitution and Journalists' Code of Ethics: serious past abuses have occurred, including promoting insurrection on television;
- modifying specialized channels programming: introducing "creativity" is required, not abandoning their "style or format;"
- enforcement authority: "the Directorate's Counsel on Social Communication and the National Commission on Telecommunications will" have overseeing power; "it is wrong to state that a committee of users will become censors or will pressure the journalists;" and
- independent productions: many already exist on TV and radio but haven't "developed into a powerful industry because they have neither space nor market;" the new law wants to assure they do.
Other answers said the new law isn't unique; programming is strengthened, not harmed; censorship won't be imposed; TV and radio stations will be required to air five hours of independently produced programs in prime time; children and adolescents will be protected from offensive content; programming containing violence or sex will air in adult time slots; media/Internet users (through committees) will participate in enforcement; and public funding will help promote independent producers.
Overall, Venezuela's broadcast and digital media will remain open, free, fair and uncensored. The new law aims to improve programming with public committees involved in enforcement. Compared to it, American content is run by a government/giant media cabal, offering managed news, infotainment, and junk food news, creating what Project Censored calls a "truth emergency" needing fixing to restore fast eroding democratic values near extinction.