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Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez Frías announced the enactment of the Law of Social Responsibility for Radio and Television, “in order to democratize the oligarchicy-controled media and to begin to halt the media terrorism which supports coup d’états, fascism, and terrorism.”

The Law of Social Responsibility for Radio and Television gives the government the authority to restrict broadcast content. The primary justification is to shield children from potentially harmful materials including programs of an explicitly sexual nature (without educational value), and from scenes of excessive violence, including physical, verbal, sexual or psychological. If a station refuses to comply with these norms, it could be fined up to $182,000 for the first offense and have its license revoked for 48 hours for subsequent offenses. Addressing the Second Bolivarian Congress of Peoples in the Teresa Carreño theatre, Chávez threatened to suspend any media that did not comply with this law or who collaborate with coup plotters. The President warned television stations to respect the regulations regarding violence and sexual content as well as messages that promote xenophobia and racism. Venezuelan news station Globovision was sharply criticized last year after host Leopoldo Castillo compared visiting President of Zimbabwe Robert Mugabe to a monkey.

Chávez made it very clear that “the Venezuelan media has put itself at the service of foreign interests...The media has to stay in its place, acting ethically, respecting truth and fundamental rights of human beings. They do not exist to serve the mafia or the elites, as happened here.” The Venezuelan President went on to remind the audience of the media’s biased and unprofessional behavior, citing the examples of the short-lived coup d’état in April, 2002 in which the media played a prominent role, though the coupwas reversed 48 hours later, and the economic sabotage and strike in December 2002-January 2003.

The Minister of Communication and Information (MinCI), Andres Izarra, also criticized the Venezuelan media, referring to the failure of privately-owned print and broadcast media to allot sufficient space to coverage of the murder of prosecutor Danilo Anderson as “media terrorism”.

Chávez promised that he would sign the Law in the upcoming hours of that afternoon, adding that “We respond to these oligarchies in the Inter American Press Association [IAPA] that the Venezuelan revolutionary process is still in effect and that today I will sign the Law of Social Responsibility for Radio and Television”

IAPA in Venezuela

This announcement coincides with the visit of IAPA to Venezuela, an organization that Chávez has denounced as having “taken up the fight of the private media against the Venezuelan people and the government by saying that here we are violating freedom of expression”.

“It is necessary to ask why [the IAPA] speak of the violation of freedoms [in Venezuela] when they don’t say a word about the 5 Cuban patriots illegally imprisoned in the United States, the prisons of the empire, and they don’t say even mention those 19 North American journalists who are being prosecuted by Washington for not revealing their sources,” said Chávez.

Owners of the media, lawyers, professors and members of the National Assembly debated together with representatives of the IAPA, the “perverse objectives” of the legal instrument including the risk of foreseen censorship, the indoctrination of children and teenagers, the “discretion” of the persons in charge of applying the law and the “complete intervention of the State in the freedom of expression”. The opening ceremony of the meeting was conducted by the Director of the IAPA, Ricardo Trotti, who feels that it is necessary to defend the right to be informed so that society can control its own destiny. The President of the IAPA, Alejandro Miró Quesada, pointed out that this type of regulation reveals the government’s true intentions “to silence the media and the journalists.”

After the Opposition block unsuccessfully attempted to prevent the passage of the Law in the National Assembly on November 24, the opposition party Movement to Socialism (MAS) announced that it would begin to collect the signatures necessary (a minimum of 10% of the voters registered in the Electoral Registry) in order to hold a referendum on the law.

This next course of action, announced Trotti, will be to bring the controversy before the Organization of American States (OAS), particularly issues such as the language of the law and the hefty financial penalties.

After thanking the IAPA for their support in the Venezuelan case David Natera, president of the Venezuelan Press Block (BPV) added that “Our values will not be negotiated. The government will not disregard national will in their intent to control the media”.

In a letter to the editor of the Colombian daily El Tiempo, Jorge Marin of Boston, Massachusetts expressed his enthusiasm for the Law, “To start, this law is not a plan by President Chavez ... nor of the MVR [5th Republic Movement]. This law was discussed in the National Assembly because sufficient signatures were collected by the people to put forward this law. The legislation comes from the people ... the people are tired of the irresponsible behavior of privately-owned TV channels and newspapers during the last four years... as professionals, these media outlets must have certain ethics ... they must verify what they are reporting and they should not negatively influence the public, especially the young.”