Venezuela to Transfer Private Media Concessions to Community Media

The
head of Venezuela's telecommunications agency (CONATEL), and minister of
housing and infrastructure, Diosdado Cabello, announced on Saturday the
immediate closure of 32 privately owned radio stations and 2 regional
television stations, as their broadcast licenses had expired or they had
violated regulations. Cabello said the recuperated licenses would be handed
over to community media.
By Kiraz Janicke - Venezuelanalysis.com

anmcla_marcha_july_2009.jpg

National Association of Free and Alternative Community Media call for airwaves to be handed to the people (ANMCLA)
National Association of Free and Alternative Community Media call for airwaves to be handed to the people (ANMCLA)
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Caracas, August 3rd 2009 (Venezuelanalysis.com) - The
head of Venezuela's telecommunications agency (CONATEL), and minister of
housing and infrastructure, Diosdado Cabello, announced on Saturday the
immediate closure of 32 privately owned radio stations and 2 regional
television stations, as their broadcast licenses had expired or they had
violated regulations. Cabello said the recuperated licenses would be handed
over to community media.

The minister said many of the stations were operating
illegally and had failed to register or pay fees to CONATEL. Decisions are
still pending on a further 206 stations.

Nelson Belfort, the president of the Chamber of Radio
Broadcasters and the Caracas-based Circuito Nacional Belfort, which owns five
of the closed radio stations, described the move as a government "attack" that
aims to limit freedom of expression. He said the CNB would appeal the decision.

However, Cabello explained that the measure is fully
within the framework of the law and that the licenses are being revoked for
violating regulations.

"I challenge those who operate the Circuito Nacional
Belfort to provide a document showing that CONATEL has authorized them to
operate the 102.3 frequency. They are saying that the station is theirs and
it's not true," Cabello declared.

"They have started to say that we are revoking
concessions and that is not true. The state is simply recovering the
concessions that were being used illegally for more than 30 years. It is an act
of justice that has to do with giving power to people," he said.

The minister denied the government is trying to limit
freedom of expression, saying those affected can continue transmitting their
programs through the internet as the measure only applies to the use of the
state-owned airwaves.

Cabello said that powerful families in Venezuela, who
had "swindled" the people, had acquired many of the radio stations illegally
and constituted "media latifundios" (a reference to large, privately-owned
estates), whereby 27 families controlled more than 32% of the radio and
television waves. Many of those affected own ten to twenty or stations, the
minister added.

Telecommunications Law

New reforms to the Telecommunications Law aim to break
up the "media latifundios" by limiting ownership of radio or television stations
to three per private owner, according to Cabello. Under the reforms
broadcasting concessions are designated as un-inheritable property, and are
therefore non-transferable to family or colleagues in the event of the death of
a concession holder.

The minister warned that those who continue to operate
illegally without permits will be subject to sanctions under the
Telecommunications Law. "There are various penalties, including confiscation of
equipment and secondly they will be subject to suspension, for five years, of
activity in telecommunications and can go to jail if they repeat these actions.
We will apply the law regardless of their surname, regardless of who their
families are", he said.

In relation to a call by the private television
station Globovision to protest in the streets against the measure, Cabello
responded, "if you want to protest do so, but do not try to subvert the
constitutional order, or call violent protests."

Around 200 people gathered to protest the decision
outside the offices of CNB on Saturday and on Monday a small group of
journalists rallied in front of CONATEL.

However, many Venezuelans share little sympathy for
the private media due to its role in the April 2002 coup that briefly ousted
President Hugo Chavez from power. Private television and radio stations
collaborated directly with the coup regime and imposed a media blackout,
broadcasting cartoons and soap operas.

On July 23 the National Association of Free and
Alternative Community Media (AMCLA), held a rally in Caracas calling for radio
and television airwaves to be handed over to the people. Then on Sunday several
hundred people rallied in front of CONATEL in support of the government
measure.

Mireya Bolet, a councilor and resident of Chacao who
attended the rally, said "I'm totally in agreement with the measure that
minister Diosdado Cabello has taken of placing the airwaves in the hands of the
Venezuelan people."

President Chavez said on Saturday that the 34 stations
were operating outside the law and have been recovered and would be handed over
to community media.

The measure should be supported, Chavez argued,
because the "radio stations now belong to the people and not the bourgeoisie."
He stressed that the people must be the owners of the strategic means of
production, and said that the Bolivarian government is also working on the
recovery of other spaces.

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