This past Wednesday, Venezuela’s National Assembly (AN) finally passed a bill that lays down strict guidelines for broadcast sex and violence on radio and television, with massive fines and even the closure of media organizations that flout regulations. The law applies norms that are generally acceptable elsewhere in most other countries.
Nevertheless, opposition leaders are claiming that the new bill will strangle press freedoms and that it will inevitably be used to silence criticism of President Hugo Chavez Frias reform government.
All 36 articles were passed in full session of the National Assembly, where pro-government legislators have a slim majority. In a follow-up stage it will undergo a further congressional review and ‘fine tuning’ before President Chavez Frias signs it into law … that will probably be early next month according to AN deputy Calixto Ortega.
Ortega refutes opposition allegations that the Law on Responsibility in Radio & Television—dubbed a ‘gag law’ by its opponents—is any kind of censorship but rather that it applies rules to a sector that for too long has acted lawlessly.
The new regulations define five levels of violence and sex and three levels of clean and dirty words. It prohibits even moderate levels of violence and sex from being shown during ‘children friendly’ hours and establishes a ‘watershed’ for adult material.
Despite government assurances to the contrary, opposition deputy Gerardo Blyde says the new law will make some newscasts illegal. He says “if an event similar to the 9/11 attacks in New York happened again … under these rules, television stations would only be able to tell you it’s happening and would be banned from showing any images at all.” The government has rejected Blyde’s comments as completely ridiculous adding that news broadcasts will never be subject to prior censorship. Blyde counters saying that early versions of the bill had called for news reporters to be sent to jail if they make false statements—although, even those provisions have been removed from the final bill, opening the gateway for opposition media lies to be broadcast without let or hindrance under the guise of ‘news.’
Media companies can indeed receive massive fines for breaking rules which include a requirement that seven hours of television programs per day must be nationally produced. Blyde says it will hurt TV companies’ profits since advertisers will leave. “Chavez and his (social) revolution are trying to break the backs of the big media companies.”
The Organization of American States (OAS) and Human Rights Watch (HRW) have issued strongly worded prepared statements similar to those of Venezuelan opposition complaints that the bill has “ambiguous language that leaves room for wide interpretations.” But the Interior & Justice Ministry (MIJ) has responded with a statement saying that the OAS and HRW are again sticking their noses into Venezuela’s domestic-political affairs without any understanding of what is actually going on in Venezuela.