Venezuela sanctions cable television channels
for failure to comply with media law

Kiraz Janicke and James Suggett

A student challenges the police during a protest against the closing of Radio Caracas Television after the channel refused to broadcast Hugo Chávez's speeches in full. (Photo: Harold Escalona/EPA.)
A student challenges the police during a protest against the closing of Radio Caracas Television after the channel refused to broadcast Hugo Chávez's speeches in full. See sidebar, right. (Photo: Harold Escalona/EPA.)

CARACAS — On Saturday, Venezuela's National Telecommunications Commission (CONATEL) temporarily closed six national cable television channels for failure to comply with the country's Law on Social Responsibility in Radio and Television.

The media law establishes standards for child and adult programming, prohibits racist, sexist or inflammatory content and incitement to violence, places limits on commercial advertising, and requires stations to broadcast important government announcements.

Among those sanctioned was opposition-aligned television channel Radio Caracas Television (RCTV). In April 2002, RCTV, together with Venezuela's private business chamber FEDECAMARAS and other sectors, participated in the military coup against President Hugo Chavez. In addition to pre-recording and broadcasting statements by top military generals involved in the coup, RCTV broadcasted false and manipulated images, imposed a blackout on coverage of anti-coup protests and welcomed the instalment of the coup regime.

Venezuelans protest after TV channel taken off air

By Helen Pidd
The Guardian UK

Venezuelans took to the streets of the capital last night to protest against Hugo Chávez's grip on the media after a TV channel which refused to broadcast the president's speeches in full was taken off the air.

Government critics and supporters of Radio Caracas Television (RCTV) protested in Caracas and other cities after cable companies dropped the channel's programming under threat of losing their licences. A Chávez decree requires all stations to televise governmental messages, including the president's lengthy weekly speeches.

Meanwhile, the vice-president and defence minister, Ramón Carrizalez, and his wife, the environment minister, Yubiri Ortega, announced their resignations, insisting they were quitting for personal reasons unrelated to the RCTV turmoil.

The resignations and protests have added to the political problems facing Chávez, who is accused by his foreign critics of leading his country into authoritarianism.

Chávez faces growing discontent over electricity and water shortages and a sharp currency devaluation this month as he heads into legislative elections in September that could reduce his tight rein on the Opec nation's congress.

Chávez named the soft-spoken Carrizalez as vice-president in 2008, just after his first ballot box defeat in a referendum about constitutional reform in 2007. Two years later, in 2009, he was made defence minister. A Chávez confidant and former army officer like the president, Carrizalez was seen as one of Chávez's more capable administrators.

"The president of the republic ... accepted the resignation that was presented for strictly personal reasons by vice-president Ramón Carrizalez," the communications minister, Blanca Eekhout, said in a statement on state television.

There have been a number of personnel changes in Chávez's government in recent weeks. Earlier this month, the president fired a recently named electricity minister for mishandling a Caracas electricity rationing scheme.

He moved his finance minister, Ali Rodriguez, to be head of the electricity ministry and the leftwing academic Jorge Giordani took over at finance.

Carrizalez previously served as infrastructure minister and housing minister, where he took on some of the nation's thorniest problems, including its acute housing shortage and the 2006 collapse of a crucial bridge linking Caracas to the airport and its main port.

— 26 January 2010

In May 2007, RCTV failed to win renewal of its free-to-air broadcasting licence because of its multiple violations of the media law including the incitement of violent opposition riots.

At the time, much of the international media reported that RCTV had been "closed down" by the Chavez government; however the station has continued its operations in Venezuela broadcasting via cable and satellite with its television studios located just blocks from the presidential offices.

Last July, CONATEL announced that cable broadcasters would undergo review and be subject to the media law if 70% of their content and overall operations were considered to be domestic. Following the announcement, RCTV designated itself as an "international" broadcaster in order to avoid the media regulations.

However, Director of CONATEL Diosdado Cabello, who is also Minister for Public Works and Infrastructure, said last Thursday that the review process determined that more than 90 percent of RCTV's production and content is domestic and it must therefore abide by Venezuelan regulations "as in other countries." Overall 105 channels were classified as national, while 164 were classified as international.

Following the reclassification, RCTV refused to broadcast a government announcement on Saturday and was subsequently sanctioned with a temporary closure.

"What a coincidence," Cabello said on Sunday, referring to RCTV's failure to comply with the regulations. The minister said that RCTV can reinitiate broadcasting after registering as a domestic producer, and then it will be monitored for four months to ensure compliance with the law.

RCTV has repeatedly broadcast inflammatory material and material inciting violence. Eleven days ago, on January 13, the station broadcast an interview with current FEDECAMARAS president Noel Álvarez, invoking a coup d'etat by calling for a "military solution" to the political situation in Venezuela.

During his weekly talk show on Sunday, President Chavez said the decision to go off the air was made by RCTV itself. "They refuse to obey the law ... that's a decision for them, not us," he said.

Other channels sanctioned for failing to comply with the law included the American Network, America TV, and TV Chile. The government has also encouraged cable network service providers to remove channels that fail to comply with the regulations.

25 January 2010 — Return to Cover