Venezuela’s TV Regulation in Four Periods

Venezuelan broadcast media have gone through periods of strong regulation that the church applauded, failed attempts at self-regulation, failed attempts at congressional regulation, and current ignorance of regulation efforts in other countries.

Venezuelan governments have on various occasions issued sanctions against television and radio outlets for having violated norms, which have been dispersed in various laws and regulations. In the majority of cases it was about dispositions that affected a particular station, with barely any protests.

For this reason it was alarming that on November 8, 1989 the Communications Ministry issued a resolution that suspended Venevision, RCTV, and Televen* for 24 hours each – a suspension that had to be complied with in stages. Fedecamaras (the largest Chamber of Commerce) was the only organization to protest.

And what did the Bishop’s Conference say? The Church has been the most consistent institution in its criticisms of the contents of TV. In April of that year it had declared:

“We are in the presence of a true escalation of irresponsibility on the part of certain media outlets. We are under the impression that our earlier calls and pleas have until now found as their only response an accentuation of the evils that were denounced: violence, eroticism, materialistic consumerism, disrespect towards women as they are turned into advertising bait, commercial abuse of children, introduction to perversity and Satanism of various forms.”

What else could be expected from an institution such as the Catholic Church? The same day as the temporary closure of the TV stations, the Catholic Bishops Conference issued a document in which it said:

“In the face of the suspension of the private TV channels, in accordance with legal norms, on the part of the national government, we want to express our satisfaction because the national government is concerned with taking measures that guarantee the moral, mental, and physical health of Venezuelans.”

2. Self-Regulation

Some Venezuelan news outlets informed that in Spain there was an agreement by which the owners of TV stations agreed with the government to respect schedules of children and adolescents and to introduce changes in their programming.

In this way the government of Rodriguez Zapatero fought what is called “Telegarbage” in Spain.

Here in Venezuela there were those who criticized that the Law of Social Responsibility in Radio and Television for not following the Spanish negotiated model.

However, in May 1995 there was an attempt to reach an agreement.

This was during the presidency of Caldera, when a meeting with this intention was convened and the commercial television stations created an association whose president played the role of the defender of the TV viewer.

When the president of this association called on two TV channels to each show during adult hours two homosexual films that they had scheduled for prime time on the day in which ratings would be measured, the response was negative. The president resigned and said that this was the last opportunity for television to regulate itself.

3. First Antecedent

The resistance of television power to any attempt to legislation or regulation goes back a while. Several times Congress discussed this important and controversial issue and each time the possibility arose, outside pressure put an end to it.

In 1968 it was the Minister of Transportation and Communication, during the first cabinet of President Caldera, who decided to send two representatives to Mexico and to Brazil. Both were supposed to compile projects or laws about this issue and when they returned they began to elaborate the first working papers. Advances were made as long as they did not become a reality.

When the news filtered out, the pressure began and, finally, the papers remained filed away. This, 36 years ago, must have been the first attempt.

4. The Mexican Case

The Mexican Senate studied a federal radio and television law project, even though the Venezuelan media did not report on this. There they are considering independent production, the obligation to transmit national content for 50% of the time, an increase by one hour the time for official programs, establishment of the right to reply to inaccurate or insulting information (just as in the Venezuelan constitution). Approving this law “would mean an advance for the recognition of the basic rights of citizens and broadcasters, the respectful coexistence of all of these and the advance of diversity in the electronic media.” This comes from a document of support signed by various personalities headed by Carlos Fuentes, Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas, Vicente Rojo and Paco Ignacio Taibo I.

Translated by Gregory Wilpert

* The three main private Venezuelan TV channels of the time.