1. Since President Chávez took power in 1998 he has
taken aim at Venezuela 's privately held media because he believes
that they are his main enemies. He has referred to the four
main private television stations as "the
Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse" for the critical stance
they've taken regarding his government's policies. Through government-sponsored
pressure tactics aimed at restricting the television media's
freedom of expression, President Chávez has attempted,
successfully in several instances, to suppress public affairs
and political talk shows and interview programs which were critical
of his government. For example, the TV station Venevisión,
which together with another TV station, RCTV, are viewed by
80% of the population, has cancelled its daytime opinion and
news programs. Televen has cancelled the opinion programs anchored
by some controversial journalists such as Martha Colomina and
Cesar Miguel Rondón and some radio stations have followed
2. For the last two years, in order to curb dissenting views and opinions, the regulatory body which oversees the broadcasting industry has initiated numerous punitive procedures, including levying sanctions and fines, against television station. The fines range from the equivalent of hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars, compliance with which could put any television station out of business. The government itself has defined these procedures as a way to pressure the TV stations into not broadcasting opinions against the government.
3. On December 7, 2004 the National Assembly passed the Radio
and Television Social Responsibility Law (or Ley Resorte ).
The new law increases State control over radio and television
programming and includes measures which go against accepted
international norms in the field. These include stipulations
in Articles 6 and 7, which limit the broadcasting of images
and sounds based on concepts that are so ambiguous that stations
have no way of knowing at what point they are breaking the law
since such stipulations are subject to the arbitrary interpretation
of the regulatory agency.
4. The law establishes within the regulatory agency a Directorate for Social Responsibility, which is composed of eleven people, whose main function is to oversee compliance with the provisions of the law and to impose sanctions on offenders. Sanctions include taking cultural and educational programming off the air, fines, the suspension of business licenses which allow stations to broadcast, and revoking their concessions. In practice, the Directorate is nothing less than a media censoring agency.
5. Of the Directorate for Social Responsibility's eleven members, seven are designated by the Government in representation of State agencies and none represents the broadcasting industry. This means that radio and television stations have no direct recourse within the Directorate to plead their cases or to appeal sanctions that might be levied upon them. In addition, the Directorate's chairman is the Director General of the regulatory agency, the National Telecommunications Commission (CONATEL), and thus a presidential appointee.
6. A number of international
organizations have expressed their opinions and concerns about
this law. Human Rights Watch, through its Executive Director
for the Americas , José Miguel Vivanco, has sharply questioned
the law, stating that "putting straitjackets on the media is
not the right way to promote democracy."
Inter-American Press Society (SIP) has stated that the law
creates mechanisms via which the State can exercise control
over what the media can publish or broadcast. In light of this
situation, the SIP has asked the Venezuelan government to repeal
the law on the grounds that it contravenes basic principles
of freedom of the press and freedom of expression.
international NGO, Reporters Without Borders, has issues
a communiqué in which it expressed its deep concern recordings
" the enactment of a law whose scope for interpretation is so
broad that it could be used against the media that do not share
the government's point of view".
Inter-American Human Rights Commission has stated that "The
use of vague terminology in the law, in addition to the possibility
of sanctions that could be applied excessively, can result in
the intimidation of the media and reporters, thereby limiting
the flow of information on issues of public interest".
10. Finally, the Radio and Television Social Responsibility Law allows the government to control program scheduling and content in the broadcast media thus, according to experts, putting a straitjacket on freedom of expression.