Mérida, December 16th 2010 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – More nationally produced content and the inclusion of internet in the law are some of the features of the reformed Social Responsibility in Radio and Television Law that the National Assembly approved in first discussion on Tuesday night and is likely to approve in the second round soon. The opposition has labelled the law an attack on “free speech” but government spokespeople say the law contains no censorship and opposition remarks are part of their ongoing anti-government campaign.
The National Assembly would have normally gone into recess on the 15 December but is now using extraordinary sessions to pass 13 more laws before the year is over. The newly elected National Assembly takes over on 5 January.
The reformed law, as it currently stands, but which is unlikely to be changed much in second discussion, aims to “guarantee respect for freedom of expression and information, without censorship, within the limits of a social and democratic state” as stated in article 3.2.
It creates a Television Programming Commission, an organisation that will establish mechanisms and conditions for assigning air space to national independent producers “with the aim of guaranteeing the democratisation of the radio electric spectrum, pluralism, freedom of creation and ...effective conditions for competition.” Along the same lines, the law also creates a Radio Programming Commission.
United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) legislator Manuel Villalba said in an interview on private television that the law aims to prioritise nationally produced content and will also help expand employment opportunities in the sector.
For example, one change to the law is that 50% of soap operas on television and radio must be produced nationally. Outlets that meet the requirement will receive a decrease in fees they have to pay.
Lawyer Maria Diaz, speaking on state owned VTV, said too many soap operas incited violence and made women invisible. “Soap operas should convey positive values for Venezuelan society,” she said.
Incoming opposition legislator Maria Machado, one of the signers of the 2002 coup d’état decree, told CNN the law contains mechanisms allowing the national executive to remove media concessions or apply fines and “with these laws [referring to this law and the telecommunications law] the president will be able to expropriate all media, regulate all fees”.
Reforms to the Organic Telecommunications Law were approved in first discussion yesterday. Villalba said the reform to the law will “allow Venezuela to adapt itself to new communication technology.”
The laws clearly state certain conditions in which fines or punishments will be applied and in most cases the National Telecommunications Commission (Conatel) is the institution in charge of opening any proceedings, but in no cases is the president awarded the right to make decisions.
Other opposition media have said the Social Responsibility Law will give the government “control over the internet”, will “seriously limit coverage of ideas, debate, and pluralism”, and “Chavez will increase his powers and impose internet censorship” (EntornoInteligente, El Nacional, and Clarin).
PSUV legislator Augusto Montiel said opposition sectors had begun a campaign against the law. “It’s just an expression of the sad, miserable, sabotaging opposition that aims to hinder Venezuelan social and economic development,” he said.
“Further, [the opposition] lies to the world...through its...media, saying that there is no freedom of expression in Venezuela. That is totally false,” he continued, assuring that there is no single internet connection point in the law. The opposition has argued that the government would try to use such a point to control internet content.
Villalba also stressed that the reformed law will not block social networks like Twitter and Facebook, nor search engines but explained that the reform expands “the purposes of the law to electronic media. If a blog publishes a call for assassination, that person must be held responsible, likewise the person who administers the site as they are supposed to be making good use of that outlet”.
The Social Responsibility Law was first created on 7 December 2004. Conatel has investigated and sanctioned media on various occasions for breaking the Social Responsibility law. Recently in January, it closed six national cable television channels for non-compliance with the law, such as failing to broadcast a government announcement.