Venezuelan Opposition and Government Find Ways to Compromise on the Media Law

In a surprising turnaround, opposition and pro-government forces in the legislature found areas of agreement and compromise for passing portions of the controversial new law for social responsibility in radio and television.

Caracas, October 23, 2004—On Thursday the opposition and the pro-government parties in Venezuela’s legislature, the National Assembly, decided to suspend their fight over the new law for Social Responsibility in Television and Radio and to instead find areas of compromise. For the past week the National Assembly has been discussing and gradually approving the controversial law, against the embittered opposition parties, which had been arguing that the law would allow the government to censor the media. Pro-government lawmakers, however, have said that the law merely provides regulations for protecting children from sex and violence on television and other common regulations that exist in most countries in the world.

Until now the law has been passed article-by-article, with the opposition vehemently opposing it almost every step of the way. So far, eight of the law’s 36 articles have been approved. This week, however, the opposition agreed to skip discussion of articles 6 and 7, two of the law’s most controversial articles, which deal with types of programming that is to be restricted and the broadcast schedules of when such programming would be allowed or prohibited. The articles are being skipped so that the two sides would have more time to find ways to compromise on this article, while proceeding with the approval of less controversial articles. According to opposition leaders, this section of the law is one of those that is most likely to be misused by the government for censorship, something that government supporters have repeatedly denied.

Articles 5, 8, and 9 were approved under a broad consensus because pro-Chavez legislators agreed to include some of the amendments that the opposition had proposed. “the changes we made by consensus. I must highlight the participation of all deputies in this process. We all brought in ideas,” said Desirée Santos, one of the law’s sponsors. These articles deal with the definition of the types of programs (article 5) and the scheduling and types of advertising that would be allowed (articles 8 and 9).

Pro-Chavez lawmakers have already removed one of the more controversial elements in the law, which is the section that would have punished broadcasters for “disrespect” of public officials.

Next week, the National Assembly will discuss numbers 10, 11, and 12, of the law, which deal with the state’s right to use the airwaves, subscription channels such as cable, and the rights of radio and television viewers and listeners. According to deputies, these articles will not present major controversies.

The media regulation law has been one of the government’s most controversial legal projects because government supporters feel that the Venezuelan media is operating under practically no regulations, which has allowed them to turn into a defacto opposition organization. Also, the broadcast media’s complicity in the April 2002 coup attempt proved to government officials that the media has been acting with impunity in Venezuela. The opposition, however, is convinced that the government intends on using the law to stifle free speech.