Mérida, October 19th 2011 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – Venezuela’s National Telecommunications Council (CONATEL) imposed a US$ 2.16 million (Bs 9.3 million) penalty yesterday on right wing news station Globovision, equivalent to 7.5% of its gross income in 2010, for manipulation and causing fear with its coverage of the El Rodeo Prison hostage situation.
According to Conatel, Globovision violated articles 27 and 29 of Venezuela’s Law of Social Responsibility in Radio and Television. Article 29 establishes a fine of up to 10% of income and possible suspension of transmissions for 72 hours for promoting anxiety, disorder, or justifying crime. Globovision’s transmission will not be suspended, and it must pay the fine by 21 December this year.
Conatel maintains that from the 16 to 19 June, during the Rodeo prison complex hostage situation, Globovision deliberately sought to create a situation of uncertainty and anxiety within Venezuela. When a prison gang took prisoners hostage in the Rodeo prisons, Globovision repeatedly showed footage of distraught prisoners’ mothers, and encouraged families to protest outside.
Pedro Maldonado, director of social responsibility with Conatel said at a press conference that Globovision retransmitted interviews with eighteen people who were outside the prisons 269 times over a period of four days.
Maldonado also wanted to make it clear that the fine wasn’t for declarations made by mothers of prisoners but rather for the “editorial behaviour and how [Globovision] dealt with the news”. Globovision didn’t “show any of the announcements made by authorities who were trying to resolve the situation” and did little to counterbalance public speculation.
“They made out that the Bolivarian National Guard was massacring the prison population, with the intention of creating general anxiety,” he said.
Maldonado said if actions weren’t taken against Globovision for its coverage during the Rodeo hostage situation, it would be “encouraging impunity” to transmit information in that way.
During the enquiry in the lead up to the sanction, Globovision had “unlimited access” to the technical and legal analysis that was conducted, Maldonado explained. That process, which began this July, included studying evidence presented by Globovision’s lawyers. The social responsibility committee of Conatel made the final decision, with all of its eleven members voting in favour.
Globovision cannot put forward an administrative appeal to the sanctions, but it can take the case to court.
Sociologist Daniel Hernandez, speaking on public television today, explained that Venezuela has signed various international treaties, including the 1948 Declaration of Human Rights, which states in article 13 that all types of war propaganda which produce anxiety in society and have the intention of destabilising the country are prohibited.
Hernandez also said the state must guarantee the “psychological, physical and moral balance in society”.
The fine is the second the government has given Globovision. The first was in June 2009, of US$ 3 million for using unauthorised microwaves and for evading taxes on advertising. The actual proceedings in this case began in 2004 by Venezuela’s tax agency Seniat, were appealed by Globovision in 2005, and overruled by Seniat in 2009.
The opposition station has been linked to other illegal practices as well, most notably for its manipulation of footage and participation in the short-lived 2002 coup against President Hugo Chavez.
Opposition legislator Richard Blanco characterised the fine as an “attack on freedom of expression” and called on Venezuelans to contribute to its payment, meanwhile the opposition coalition, the Democratic Unity Table (MUD) said the fine was a “disguised attempt to close the channel”.
The International Press Society (SIP), which groups together printed media owners, called the fine a “dictatorial measure to silence a critical and independent measure”.
On the other hand, the NGO Journalists for Truth emphasised that Globovision shouldn’t get away with “lying and manipulating public opinion with false information” and that there was no doubt Globovision would also “manipulate the measure [taken by Conatel] as well”.
The vice president of Globovision, Maria Flores said the “fine represents economic bankruptcy for Globovision...and later the closing of the channel”. Maldonado responded to such claims, emphasising that the fine was only 7.5% of the station’s gross profit for one year, and “easily payable”, while the Journalists for Truth said an annual gross income of Bs 130 million (US$ 30.2 million) meant Globovision was in no danger of bankrupting.
A legal representative of Globovision, Ricardo Antela said the “accusations are false” and that the company would “appeal the decision in the courts, we’ll exhaust all internal recourses before going onto international ones”.