Mérida, August 1, 2007 (venezuelanalysis.com)— Venezuelan private television channel RCTV barely avoided being taken off of cable TV today, when the country’s Supreme Court granted an injunction that allows its continued broadcast, despite RCTV's defiance of a government ultimatum for the channel to register itself as a national broadcaster.
RCTV stopped broadcasting over the airwaves last May 27th, when its broadcast license expired and the government refused to renew it. About two weeks ago, though, RCTV began broadcasting again over satellite and cable and moved its headquarters from Caracas to Miami, renaming itself “RCTV International.”
Last week Venezuela’s Telecommunications Minister, Jesse Chacon, said that his ministry will pull RCTV off cable providers today at midnight the channel does not follow the follow the Venezuelan law with regards to media regulations. RCTV, however, maintains that it does not have to follow Venezuelan law since it is no longer a channel of national production but rather an international channel.
The Venezuelan Chamber of Subscription Television (Cavetesu), however, said a few days ago that it will suspend RCTV's broadcast at midnight tonight if the channel does not register itself as a channel of national production, as is required by the government.
According to Helena Salcedo, Vice-minister of Communicational Management, all nationally produced television channels, whether cable or broadcast over the airwaves must register with the National Telecommunications Commission and follow the Venezuelan media regulations, which include broadcasting all messages from the Ministry of Communications and many of the president's public speeches.
"Since the year 2004 many cable television channels are going through this process. So I don't understand why some people have to have a carte blanche. The law is for everyone. It doesn't make exceptions," said Salcedo, who accused RCTV's lack of compliance to be another "destabilization attempt."
The Telecommunications Commission informed RCTV that if it wants to be an international channel, it must provide predominantly international programming. Government officials consider RCTV to be a national channel since it is produced inside Venezuela and directed to the Venezuelan population.
"This television channel must follow the Media Responsibility Law as long, as it doesn't change its programming, which is totally national," explained Salcedo.
But the directors of RCTV deny that they are a channel of national production and consider the government decision to be "arbitrary," and not in line with Venezuelan law. RCTV claims to be an international channel just like CNN or Telesur, and therefore should not have to follow Venezuela’s media law.
Although RCTV has its office in Miami, its programming is created from its studios in Caracas and maintains the same programming that it had when it broadcast over the airwaves.
Jose Gonzales, attorney for RCTV International, stated, however, that the channel will not register with the telecommunications commission because they don't understand how the Venezuelan authorities define an "international channel."
"What we want is an explanation, some accurate information about what the Venezuelan authorities consider an international channel to be, and from there we can take the necessary decisions," said Gonzales.
The Venezuelan government has not yet defined what an international channel is, but clarified that a "national channel" is any channel whose programming and publicity is directed to the Venezuelan population. The government maintains that it does not matter where a channel's offices are located, but rather the nature of the programming and the publicity and to whom it is directed because, in its opinion, it is easy to set up an administrative office in another country.
RCTV claims that the government requirements are "political persecution" and has stated that it does not agree with the categorization as a national channel. According to RCTV, "There is no administrative decision, respecting due process, which designates a national producer." RCTV insists that it will not register as a national channel because it "wants to be, and has decided to be an international channel."
Supreme Court Issues Injunction against Telecommunications Ministry
Cavetsu, which represents Venezuela’s cable providers, filed a request with the Supreme Court to prevent the removal of RCTV from its programming, in “the protection of diffuse and collective interests.” According to Cavetsu, as long nationally and internationally produced audiovisual broadcasting is not clearly defined, it should not be forced to remove RCTV from its cable offerings.
The constitutional chamber of the Supreme Court agreed with the request and told the Telecommunications Ministry that as long as the types of broadcasters are not clearly defined, its order to take RCTV off cable is rescinded.
The Director of RCTV, however, Marcel Granier, was not pleased with the court’s decision, saying that the decision represents “a new attack by the power, dressed up as a gift, by giving RCTV a few more days of life,” adding that he presumes that the decision is the result of an “instruction [the court] received from the executive.”
Gregory Wilpert also contributed to this report from Caracas.