Venezuela Discusses Limits to Media Ownership
Posted: Friday, July 10, 2009
Venezuelan National Assembly Discusses Limits to Concentration of Media Ownership
By James Suggett
July 10th 2009 - Venezuelanalysis.com
In a presentation before the National Assembly on Thursday, Venezuelan Public Works and Housing Minister Diosdado Cabello proposed reforms to the Telecommunications Law that would limit the concentration of private radio and television ownership and bring more cable providers under the jurisdiction of the National Telecommunications Commission (CONATEL) and the Law on Social Responsibility in Radio and Television.
"You can be certain that we will democratize the radio-electric spectrum and bring an end to large media estates in radio and television," said Cabello, comparing Venezuela's media magnates to Venezuela's elite class of large landowners.
According to Cabello, 27 families control more than 32% of the radio and television waves, with as many as 48 stations grouped under a single owner.
The long-time friend and ally of President Hugo Chávez proposed a limit of three stations for any private owner, and a limit of one half hour per day of uniform broadcasting on those three stations. Such a rule would favor Venezuela's small-scale independent producers, said the minister.
He also specified that broadcasting concessions are not inheritable property, so concession holders should not be allowed to pass on their broadcasting rights to family or colleagues in the event of their death.
With regard to cable television, Cabello proposed an administrative provision that would define any company whose programming is 70% produced in Venezuela as Venezuelan. This would require the company to register with CONATEL and abide by the Law on Social Responsibility in Radio and Television. Many cable stations have registered as international companies even though they are actually Venezuelan, to avoid government regulation, said Cabello.
"They'll all be in the same sack, that is to say, they'll all be national audiovisual producers if 70% of their production is considered to be Venezuelan," said Cabello, whose proposals will be open for public discussion for a month before the National Assembly proceeds toward a vote.
The minister presented statistics on the breakdown of radio ownership in Venezuela. Of the country's FM stations, 472 are privately owned, while 243 are local community-based operations and 79 are public. And, private owners control 184 AM stations, while the state controls 26 AM stations, according to the minister. In television, more than 60% of broadcasting concessions (65 stations) are in private hands, while just under 35% (37) are community-based and six are controlled by the national government. He did not specify the geographic range of the different signals.
To increase the state's share of the media, Cabello said the state will take over the 154 FM stations and 86 AM stations that did not register and pay fees to CONATEL by the July 2nd deadline, as requested by CONATEL a month earlier. "That which is not up to date with CONATEL will not have its concession renewed and the state will recuperate new radio spaces where the people are able to access information," said Cabello.
This measure has provoked opposition from Venezuela's Chamber of Radio Broadcasters, which called it "a direct attack against freedom of expression." In an official statement, the Chamber said the measure announced by Cabello "lacks basis" because all its members had "fulfilled all the procedures required by CONATEL since the year 2000."
Cabello responded that he would not negotiate with the Chamber, but he would be willing to negotiate with community-based and state-owned radio stations, and that a similar proposal for television stations is in the works.
The minister's proposals come amidst a media climate in which news outlets are highly politicized and openly engaged in a "media war" either for or against the administration of President Chávez. The private media has broadcast threats to assassinate the president and participated a coup d'etat against Chavez in 2002.
Recently, CONATEL has received complaints that some cable companies interfered with the signals of the Caracas-based Latin American news network Telesur and the Venezuelan state channel VTV during the coup d'etat in Honduras.
In addition, CONATEL opened an investigation earlier this week into a series of advertisements broadcast on several prominent private radio and television stations. The ads assert that the state plans to confiscate private property and young and adolescent children for indoctrination, and feature false quotes from fictitious laws and politicians. CONATEL's press release accuses the sponsor of the ads, a right-wing think tank near Caracas called CEDICE, of inciting violence and public disorder.
Chavez transferred the administration of CONATEL from the Ministry of Communications and Information to the Cabello's Public Works and Housing Ministry earlier this year with the intention of driving forward media reforms. Cabello is the former vice president of Venezuela and the former governor of Miranda state.