Venezuelan Government Warns that some TV Licenses Might Not be Renewed

Clarifying the president's remarks of last week, that some TV stations might lose their licenses, Communications Minister William Lara said that the government is only complying with its duties in making sure that broadcasters abide by the law and many of these have been violating the 2004 media responsibility law.

Caracas,Venezuela, June 19, 2006—Venezuela’sMinister for Communication and Information, William Lara, reiterated PresidentChavez’s remarks last week that the government will evaluate whether broadcastershave been complying with the country’s Media Responsibility Law. If the evaluation findsthat they have not, some broadcasters, whose licenses are up for renewal in2007, might not be able to renew these. The announcement caused an uproar amongopposition leaders, who charged the government with wanting to stifle freespeech.

President Chavez first made theannouncement about possible non-renewals of broadcast licenses last week, whenhe said, “I have ordered the revision of TV channel concessions. There are somechannels that want to change, to respect the constitution, who had supportedthe coup in 2002, which was all of them. Back then we had the chance toeliminate these [licenses], but despite this we called for dialogue.”

During the April 2002 coupattempt nearly all major private television stations collaborated with couporganizers to present a false image of the events that led to Chavez’sdetention and then, when the coup was collapsing, failed to report on thedemonstrations demanding his return.

Chavez went on to say, “We needto review the licenses of the TV stations which will be expiring soon, in 2007.We cannot be so irresponsible to keep giving concessions to a little grouppersons so that they may use these against us… I don’t give a damn what theoligarchs of the world say. What is important to me is the fate of my homeland.”

Communications minister Laraclarified Chavez’s remarks a few days later, saying that any such non-renewalof broadcast licenses would take place by the letter of the law and onlyfollowing a thorough review of the extent to which broadcasters are abiding bythe Law of Social Responsibility in Radio and Television.

“To follow the content of televisionand radio programming in Venezuelais to comply with our duty,” said Lara on Saturday. Lara added that so far theinstitution in charge of observing the media, the telecommunications commissionCONATEL, has documented many violations of the media’s duties as outline in theSocial Responsibility law.

Defending against charges thatthe government was persecuting the media, Lara said, “Applying the law in noway whatsoever is to persecute. Applying the law is to act in accordance with thestate of law, just as the Bolivarian government of Venezuela is doing. What some ownersof radio and television service providers need to understand is that impunityhas ended in this country.”

International media groups suchas the Committee for the Protection of Journalists (CPJ) and the Inter-AmericanPress Association (IAPA) immediately condemned the government’s announcement. “Weurge President Chavez to abstain from making these kinds of threatening commentaries,which inhibit the work of the press,” stated the CPJ according to the newsagency AFP.

Similarly, the president of theCommission on Libertyand Press of the IAPA, Gonzalo Marroquín, said, “These threats do no stop beingworrisome and feed a climate of antagonism, especially in an electoral period inwhich the media must play the part of scrutiny in order to give the public adiversity of points of view.”

The Law of Social Responsibility in Radio andTelevision, which was passed in late 2004, specifies, among other things, that broadcastmedia must abide by a certain broadcast schedule if they want to depict graphicviolence or sexuality, requires the broadcasting of a certain proportion ofnationally produced programming, restricts advertising, and allows for theparticipation of citizens in determining broadcaster’s compliance with the law.Violations of the law’s provisions can lead to fines and, in extreme cases, toa temporary or even permanent suspension of broadcast licenses.