Venezuelan National Assembly Discusses Limits to Concentration of Media Ownership

Venezuelan Public Works and Housing Minister Diosdado Cabello has proposed reforms to the Telecommunications Law that would limit the concentration of private radio and television ownership.
"Minister Diosdado Cabello in the National Assembly on Thursday" (ABN)

Mérida, July 10th 2009 ( — In a
presentation before the National Assembly on Thursday, Venezuelan Public Works
and Housing Minister Diosdado Cabello proposed reforms to the
Telecommunications Law that would limit the concentration of private radio and
television ownership and bring more cable providers under the jurisdiction of
the National Telecommunications Commission (CONATEL) and the Law on Social Responsibility
in Radio and Television.

"You can be certain that we will democratize the radio-electric
spectrum and bring an end to large media estates in radio and television," said
Cabello, comparing Venezuela's media magnates to Venezuela's elite class of
large landowners.

According to Cabello, 27 families control more than 32% of the radio
and television waves, with as many as 48 stations grouped under a single owner.

The long-time friend and ally of President Hugo Chávez proposed a limit
of three stations for any private owner, and a limit of one half hour per day
of uniform broadcasting on those three stations. Such a rule would favor
Venezuela's small-scale independent producers, said the minister.

He also specified that broadcasting concessions are not inheritable
property, so concession holders should not be allowed to pass on their
broadcasting rights to family or colleagues in the event of their death. 

With regard to cable television, Cabello proposed an administrative
provision that would define any company whose programming is 70% produced in
Venezuela as Venezuelan. This would require the company to register with
CONATEL and abide by the Law on Social Responsibility in Radio and Television.
Many cable stations have registered as international companies even though they
are actually Venezuelan, to avoid government regulation, said Cabello.

"They'll all be in the same sack, that is to say, they'll all be
national audiovisual producers if 70% of their production is considered to be
Venezuelan," said Cabello, whose proposals will be open for public discussion
for a month before the National Assembly proceeds toward a vote.

The minister presented statistics on the breakdown of radio ownership
in Venezuela. Of the country's FM stations, 472 are privately owned, while 243
are local community-based operations and 79 are public. And, private owners
control 184 AM stations, while the state controls 26 AM stations, according to
the minister. In television, more than 60% of broadcasting concessions (65
stations) are in private hands, while just under 35% (37) are community-based
and six are controlled by the national government. He did not specify the
geographic range of the different signals.

To increase the state's share of the media, Cabello said the state will
take over the 154 FM stations and 86 AM stations that did not register and pay
fees to CONATEL by the July 2nd deadline, as requested by CONATEL a
month earlier. "That which is not up to date with CONATEL will not have its
concession renewed and the state will recuperate new radio spaces where the
people are able to access information," said Cabello.

This measure has provoked opposition from Venezuela's Chamber of Radio
Broadcasters, which called it "a direct attack against freedom of expression."
In an official statement, the Chamber said the measure announced by Cabello
"lacks basis" because all its members had "fulfilled all the procedures
required by CONATEL since the year 2000."

Cabello responded that he would not negotiate with the Chamber, but he
would be willing to negotiate with community-based and state-owned radio
stations, and that a similar proposal for television stations is in the works.

The minister's proposals come amidst a media climate in which news
outlets are highly politicized and openly engaged in a "media war" either for
or against the administration of President Chávez. The private media has
broadcast threats to assassinate the president and participated a coup d'etat
against Chavez in 2002.

Recently, CONATEL has received complaints that some cable companies
interfered with the signals of the Caracas-based Latin American news network
Telesur and the Venezuelan state channel VTV during the coup d'etat in

In addition, CONATEL opened an investigation earlier this week into a
series of advertisements broadcast on several prominent private radio and
television stations. The ads assert that the state plans to confiscate private
property and young and adolescent children for indoctrination, and feature
false quotes from fictitious laws and politicians. CONATEL's press release
accuses the sponsor of the ads, a right-wing think tank near Caracas called
CEDICE, of inciting violence and public disorder.

Chavez transferred the administration of CONATEL from the Ministry of
Communications and Information to the Cabello's Public Works and Housing
Ministry earlier this year with the intention of driving forward media reforms.
Cabello is the former vice president of Venezuela and the former governor of
Miranda state.