Venezuelan Commercial TV Stations Failed to Declare Taxes for Free Anti-government Ads

Venezuela's tax collection agency, notified four commercial TV stations about their failure to declare taxes for free ads they ran for the opposition during the lock-out of 2002. TV stations call move "politically motivated"

Political propaganda is not exempt from taxes, according to SENIAT president Jose Vielma Mora.

Caracas, March 21 ( Last Friday, Venezuela’s tax collection agency SENIAT, notified four Venezuelan commercial TV stations about their failure to declare taxes for free ads they ran for the opposition coalition Coordinadora Democratica.

Venezuela’s commercial media is openly opposed to the government. During the three-month business lock-out and sabotage of the oil industry at the end of 2002 and the beginning of 2003, TV stations suspended their normal programming to give non stop coverage of the lock-out. Additionally, they suspended their normal commercial ads to only run anti-government ads as “donations” to the Coordinadora Democratica. It was part of the media’s contribution to the campaign to oust Chavez, in the same way they acted during the coup d’etat of April 2002.

The stations which failed to declare the additional taxes are Radio Caracas Television (RCTV), which owes 1,044,386 US$ (two billion Bolivars); Venevision, which owes 731,070 US$ (1.4 billion Bolivars); Televen, which owes 292,428 US$ (560 million Bolivars); and Globovisión, which owes 1,148,825 US$ (2.2 billion Bolivars).

The tax declaration by TV station CMT presents no problems, according the SENIAT.

“Government 95% dictatorial”

The local media is presenting the government’s enforcement of tax laws, as a way of limiting freedom of expression.

Marcel Granier, the president of 1BC, parent company of RCTV, declared that the move by the SENIAT is politically motivated and that they will seek legal action against it. “We are just allowing the opposition express their thoughts,” he said. Neither Granier nor other TV stations officials have denied airing the free anti-government ads for the opposition.

Granier, who is credited with first claiming that the Chavez administration is a “castro-communist regime”, added that “this government is now 95% dictatorial.” Granier’s attitude sharply contrasts with his silence after his TV political show Primer Plano was taken off the air in 1986 by then President Jaime Lusinchi. Under previous administrations, the media enjoyed big subsidies and contracts from the government, a practice which ended during the Chavez administration. Unlike previous administrations, no single media outlet has been censored during the Chavez government, except during the coup d’etat of 2002, when TV stations broadcasted explicit calls to overthrow the government.

The 1BC president said that the Chavez government is now restricting public announcements such as those for people who need blood. SENIAT president José Vielma Mora responded to Granier’s statements by saying that according to the law, public service announcements, and free ads for charity agencies are exempt of taxes, but not political propaganda.

When consulted on whether the stations would be closed, the SENIAT director said that such action is not in the plans. 15 days are left for Venezuelans to present their tax declarations. A grace period of 25 more days will apply to the TV stations to pay their taxes, giving them 40 days to make the payments or to object and present legal action.

The local media calls “fines” the tax enforcement actions by the SENIAT. The SENIAT president says they just presented an objection to the tax declarations by those companies. Fines would apply if the companies fail to make their payments within the time stipulated by law.

Public media also under scrutiny

SENIAT president Vielma Mora said that his institution is also reviewing public media for possible violations, and announced that they could also be the subject of objections by the SENIAT. Already, some public sector institutions such as the Corporacion Venezolana de Guayana (metal foundry company), and the Simon Bolivar International Airport, have been the subject of tax enforcement actions. The Simon Bolivar International Airport had to pay an additional 2,088,772 US$ (four billion Bolivars) to the SENIAT after an audit.

Vielma said the tax report of Venezolana de Television, the state TV station, is accurate. “But if the state TV stations slips, you must punish them,” President Chavez told Vielma on a televised show.

Chavez criticized the media owners for refusing to pay taxes. “Tax payments are one of the basic foundations of Capitalism,” said Chavez on the reactions by media owners who accuse him of setting up a Communist dictatorship. “When the government enforces tax laws, they get mad. Thay have a lot of money but don’t like to honor their obligations,” said Chavez.

The Chavez government’s strong enforcement of tax laws is a big source of clashes between the private sector and the government. “The days of corporate welfare are over in Venezuela,” said a pro-government radio political analyst.

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