Hugo Chávez on 6 December 2004 announced the promulgation of the law on Social Responsibility in TV and Radio. "We are today going to promulgate the law to put a break on media terrorism that hits freedoms, to begin to democratise media that are in thrall to an oligarchy that has already supported coups, fascism and terrorism," he told the opening of congress. "Any media that puts itself at the service of a coup or foreign interests will be suspended," the head of state warned.
The law was finally promulgated by the president on the evening of 7 December, following a final reading in the National Assembly.
26.11.2004 - Reporters Without Borders criticises new law threatening press freedom
Reporters Without Borders said today it was "extremely concerned" by a "vaguely-termed" new law about the "social responsibility" of the Venezuelan media that "might be used against those that did not agree with the government."
"It will give the authorities wide powers to impose heavy fines and suspend or cancel broadcasting licences and will result in self-censorship by media or abuses by the authorities," it said. The second reading of the measure was approved by parliament on 24 November.
"The government promised to consult many sectors but the proposed law was not altered significantly and the final version retained the two most dangerous clauses for press freedom. These were that the body overseeing compliance with the law was still dominated by officials of state institutions and that "provisional measures" could be taken to impose formal censorship.
Reporters Without Borders wrote to information minister Andrés Izarra on 20 October that "to prevent any misuse of it, the law should be implemented by a body independent of the government" and called for the system of "provisional measures" to be dropped. The worldwide press freedom organisation said it did not in principle oppose a law that spelled out the obligations of broadcasting licenceholders.
Parliament, where President Hugo Chávez has a majority, approved the last sections of the proposed law on 24 November. A first reading of it was in February last year and a second reading began on 7 October this year. The measure, which officially aims to adapt programme content to a young audience, must now be discussed by parliament’s media commission before a final parliamentary vote.
Article 6 divides violent or sexual language and images into categories that can be broadcast during one or other of three periods of the day listed in article 7 - an "open" period (7 a.m. to 7 p.m.) when children must be able to watch TV on their own, "supervised" periods (5-7 a.m. and 7-11 p.m.) when they are monitored by their parents and an "adult" period (11 p.m. to 5 a.m.).
Article 28 lists possible violations of the law, which were increased from 47 to 78 during second reading of the bill. They involved obligatory air time for cultural and educational messages and fines of up to 2% of the medium’s previous year’s declared gross taxable income.
Showing violent scenes during news programmes in the "open" period would be punishable by broadcast of obligatory material unless such violence was "vital to understanding the news." Maximum fines could be imposed for broadcasting scenes showing children or teenagers "speaking or behaving sexually or violently in a way inappropriate for their age."
Article 29 lists punishable offences apparently unrelated to the original aim of the law such as broadcasting images that "promote, defend or incite war... disturbing the peace... or crime." Penalties include a three-day closure of a TV station and, if the offence is repeated within five years, cancellation of its broadcasting licence.
Article 20 says the law’s application will to be overseen (and punishment meted out) by a radio and TV "social responsibility directorate," seven of whose 11 members will be named by the government.
Cancelling licences would be done by a "telecommunications watchdog body" that was not specified (article 29). In the initial version of the bill, cancellation was to be done by the infrastructure ministry.
Article 33 gives the National Telecommunications Commission (Conatel, which regulates state-granted licences and is under the infrastructure ministry) power to ban "provisionally" the broadcast of images that "promote, defend or incite war... disturbing the peace... or crime."