Inter-American HR Comission Overturns Injunction in Favor of Venezuelan TV Station

It is up to the Venezuelan legal system to decide in this case, says the IHRC. Venezuelan ministers' meeting with IHRC officials to lay the case, paid off.

Last Friday, the Organization of American States (OAS) Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (ICHR), refused to extend the October 3rd injunction in favor of the Venezuelan TV station Globovision, which demanded that the Venezuelan government return the microwave transmission equipment confiscated from the station due to their illegal use of the radio electric spectrum.

On October 3rd, Venezuela’s Telecommunications Commission, Conatel, confiscated some microwave equipment used without permission by TV station Globovision to make transmissions through frequencies in the 7 GHz band. The action did not impair the station’s ability to broadcast, and it hasn’t gone off the air. Conatel has invited Globovision to fill the paperwork to request legal authorization to use the microwave transmission bands, and to use the 12 GHz band for which they are authorized.

The ICHR based their decision on the fact that it is up to the Venezuelan legal system to decide in this case.

“After carefully reviewing the documents, as well as opinions and statements, we decided not to renew the injunction with regard to the seizure of equipment or [microwave] links, because taken in isolation this measure does not constitute irreversible damage to them [Globovision],” said José Zalaqquet, the president of the ICHR.

Zalaqquet also said that Globovision cannot request actions by the Inter-American Court because they must exhaust all the judicial resources in their jurisdiction.

The IHRC adopted a modified non-binding injunction asking the Venezuelan government to decide promptly on the seizure of Globovision’s equipment.

A triumph for Venezuelan ministers

Last Tuesday and Wednesday, Minister of Infrastructure Diosdado Cabello, and the Minister of Communications and Information Jesse Chacón, attended several meetings in Washington DC, with the purpose of explaining the government’s law enforcement actions in the case of Globovision.

Last Wednesday, the ministers along with Venezuela’s ambassador in the U.S. Bernardo Alvarez, gave a press conference to explain the details of their visit to Washington DC.

The main goal of the government officials was to meet with the IHRC, and as Minister Cabello said, “the mission was fulfilled successfully,” proof of that is Friday’s favorable decision from the IHRC. During the meeting, which took place behind closed doors, the ministers gave the IHRC commissioners a series of legal and technical documents that proof the administrative and legal aspect of the procedure against Globovision

According to Jesse Chacón, the injunction issued by the ICHR was rushed and it was only based on the version given to them by Globovision, who claimed that the government was closing down the television station, and that it was violating their free speech rights. Chacón lamented the quickness with which the commission acted in the case of Globovision, which contrasts with its lack of action in the case of the closing of Caracas’ community TV station Catia TVe, shut down by the Mayor of Caracas, an active opposition politician.

According to Diosdado Cabello, he and Chacón exposed the inconsistencies of the ICHR actions, and its lack of fairness when making similar decisions. “We are still waiting to hear from the ICHR on the injunction to protect the life of President Chavez that was requested after the coup d’etat of April of 2002. Also, we asked for information on the case closing of the state TV channel Venezolana de Television by opposition Governor Enrique Mendoza during the coup d’etat. Also, we still don’t have any information on the closing of Catia TVe, nor on the broadcast of subliminal messages by some commercial television channels. The injunctions in those cases haven’t been approved, and that sharply contrasts with the injunction in favor of Globovision, which was approved immediately.

After the injunction was issued in favor of Globovision, the Venezuelan government provided evidence to the IHRC and asked them to reconsider the decision. Cabello complained about the time that the ICHR has taken to review the decision, and said that the delay in these bureaucratic proceedings leaves many doubts about the legitimacy of the injunction in favor of Globovision.

On the other hand, minister of Communications and Information Jesse Chacón, said “it worries us that the ICHR acts very diligently in some cases and in others they don’t. In Latin America most countries have acted against the alternative press by applying mechanisms that prevent the communities’ access to the airwaves. In Venezuela, a law has been approved to guarantee the communities´ access to the airwaves, and already there are more than 60 community radio and TV stations legalized, which has been recognized by the World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters as the only viable model in Latin America for the development of alternative media. Nevertheless, the ICHR has not acted on those other cases in Latin America.”

Chacón emphasized that in the case of Bolivia, where recently more than 70 people died and where radio, television and newspapers were censured; the ICHR only issued a statement, but did not issue an injunction to prevent the censorship. Nevertheless in the Venezuelan case they did issue one, although the government’s action is completely legal.

“Clandestinity has no rights”

“The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has initiated actions similar to those by CONATEL against Globovision, and has seized illegal transmission equipment. The International Union the Telecommunications CITEL, the telecommunications advising group of the OAS, invites governments to act against the clandestine use of the airwaves, because the telecommunications sector depends on that.

Chacón said that Globovision was told they were using those microwave frequencies without authorization and he told them that they had to apply for authorization.

Article 183 of the Telecommunications Law stipulates the seizure of communications equipment in the case of the clandestine use of frequencies.

“We asked the ICHR if Globovision showed them the documents to reserve of the frequencies, and that document does not exist because they never applied at CONATEL to transmit in the frequencies of the 7 GHz bands, which were the ones that CONATEL found to be used illegally.”

Globovision’s arguments easy to rebate

Chacón also said that in the meeting with the ICHR, the Globovision lawyers presented two main arguments. The first one was about the fact that Globovision is not a clandestine company. “CONATEL has never said that Globovision is a clandestine company, but that it is making illegal or clandestine use of the spectrum according to article 189 of the Telecommunications Law.”

The other argument presented by Globovision was that an authorization is not required for this type of operation according to article 75 of the Law of Telecommunications, which allows the use of the spectrum through an special authorization, as long as it is used for a maximum of three days. “We told the ICHR that this was not the case, and that even if it was; Globovision did not applied for that special authorization. Also, the microwave equipment that was seized, had permanent connections and have been used for more than a year.”

The minister said that last year Conatel approved all the microwave transmission permits requested by Globovision in the 12 GHz band, so the TV station can legally used that band.

The ministers invited the ICHR to consult the FCC website, so that they can verify the number of similar procedures initiated by them against illegal use of airwaves in the US.

“We don’t know why the IHRC did not consulted with the International Union the Telecommunications (CITEL), which advises the OAS. CITEL, in its principles invites governments to guarantee the legal use of the airwaves, that is, to fight illegal use of it,” said Chacón.

The minister said to be preoccupied by the ICHR injunction because “it seems as if they are supporting illegality. In other words, they are saying to the world that equipment can be seized from a cellular phone company that is using the airwaves illegally, but not from a television company.”

Chacón said to be convinced that the commissioners understood the arguments presented by them.

The IHRC refusal to extend the injunction in favor of Globovision vindicates the arguments presented by Chacón and Cabello, and it represents a hard blow the opposition TV station.