Venezuela’s Telecommunications Commission Sanctions 22 Media Outlets

Conatel, Venezuela’s Telecommunications Commission, has sanctioned 22 media outlets for alleged violations of the Law of Social Responsibility, mostly involving failure to submit broadcast tapes.

Caracas, Venezuela, February 16, 2006—Yesterday, the Venezuelan National Telecommunications Commission (Conatel) mandated that 21 radio stations and one television station broadcast government public service spots and pay fines for alleged violations of the 2004 Law of Social Responsibility in Radio and Television.

A spokesperson for Conatel told a press conference that most of the violations involved radio stations’ failure to submit broadcast tapes to the agency, which is mandated by the Law of Social Responsibility, to allow the government to verify that the stations are playing the required amount of national music. According to the spokesperson, further violations included broadcasting content encouraging gambling during hours when children may be watching, and in one case violations of rules for the airing of sexual content.

As of yet, Conatel has not released specific information about all the penalties, which, according to the agency, will be based on the infractions committed at each station and be between 14 and 30 minutes for up to fourteen days. Caracas radio station 88.1 FM will be fined 0.5 percent of its annual gross revenues in 2004.

According to the Venezuelan government’s ABN newswire, the Conatel spokesperson said the sanctions are being applied strictly according to the law.

Conatel director, Alvín Lezama, said media outlets could appeal the decision in court, but would be required to comply with the order while waiting for a ruling, reports the Daily Journal.

The Law of Social Responsibility in Radio and Television, was introduced to the National Assembly in 2003. Among its stated purposes were upholding 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, according to the Venezuela Information Office, an agency funded and directed by the Venezuelan Embassy in Washington.

But, Venezuela’s enactment of the law resulted in a flurry of criticism from local opposition and national and international media that the law could be misused to censor the press. Among its most controversial provisions is one which prohibits broadcasting “graphic descriptions of real violence” during daytime hours, unless it is indispensable for understanding information or resulting from unforeseen events. Another allows the government to punish stations that “promote, defend or incite breaches of public order” or “are contrary to the security of the nation.”

Critics argued that these provisions could allow the government to block some forms of political content. Thus far, this has not happened, but the government announced last month that it will investigate news outlets under the law for their coverage of the case of murdered Venezuelan State Prosecutor Danilo Anderson.

Proponents of the law say that it has set up Federal Communications Commission style regulations, which, under the Law of Decency in Telecommunications and the Law of Child TV prohibit broadcasting of obscene material, limit broadcasting of indecent material and mandate educational and information programs in the United States.

At issue with most of the stations, is the section of the law which requires at least 50 percent Venezuelan music content, of which half must be traditional. The law has resulted in an increase in the popularity of Venezuelan music. "We’ve always had traditional Venezuelan records in stock, but before a few months ago we never sold any — not one," Miguel Angel Guada, manager of the Disco Center Superstore in one of the capital’s largest malls told the Washington Post last July. "It was all Britney Spears, Backstreet Boys and that sort of thing. But now I’d say one-third of our business comes from Venezuelan artists, which is absolutely incredible."  

However, some radio stations had objected to the new law. Caracas’ 92.9 FM, one of the stations being charged, responded to the new law by playing “vulgar folkloric music” according to the New York Times.

However, the reaction of the public and traditional musicians has been largely favorable.

"It’s kind of the fashion now to listen to traditional music," 19-year-old Rafael Quintero, 19 told the Post. "It has just taken off in the last three months."

Huáscar Barradas, who plays a mix of traditional and pop music, now has bookings across the country, according to the Times. "All of a sudden, I get calls from people at radio stations who never played my music before," he told the New York newspaper. "They now put four or five of my songs on a rotation. I’m on all the radio programs, the most important ones."