Venezuela: Putting media in the peoples' hands

Issue 

The head of Venezuela's telecommunications agency (CONATEL), Diosdado Cabello, announced the immediate closure of 32 privately owned radio stations and two regional television stations on August 1.

All the stations had either violated regulations or had expired broadcast licenses. Cabello said the recovered licenses would be handed over to community media.

He said many of the stations were operating illegally and had failed to register or pay fees to CONATEL. Decisions are still pending on a further 206 stations.

Nelson Belfort, the president of the Chamber of Radio Broadcasters and the Caracas-based Circuito Nacional Belfort, which owns five of the closed radio stations, described the move as a government "attack" that aims to limit freedom of expression. He said the CNB would appeal the decision.

However, Cabello said the measure was fully within the framework of the law and the licenses were being revoked for violating regulations.

"I challenge those who operate the Circuito Nacional Belfort to provide a document showing that CONATEL has authorised them to operate the 102.3 frequency. They are saying that the station is theirs and it's not true", Cabello said.

"They have started to say that we are revoking concessions and that is not true. The state is simply recovering the concessions that were being used illegally for more than 30 years. It is an act of justice that has to do with giving power to people."

The minister denied the government is trying to limit freedom of expression. He said the affected stations could continue transmitting their programs through the internet as the measure only applies to the use of the state-owned airwaves.

Cabello said that powerful families in Venezuela, who had "swindled" the people, had acquired many of the radio stations illegally and constituted "media latifundios" (a reference to large, privately-owned landholdings).

As a result, just 27 families control more than 32% of radio and television outlets in Venezuela. Many of those affected own ten to twenty or stations, the minister said.

New reforms to the telecommunications law aim to break up the media latifundios by limiting ownership of radio or television stations to three for every private owner, said Cabello.

Under the reforms, broadcasting concessions will no longer be inheritable property. This means they could not be passed on to family or colleagues if a concession-holder dies.

The minister warned that those who continue to operate illegally without permits will be subject to sanctions under the telecommunications law.

"There are various penalties, including confiscation of equipment and secondly they will be subject to suspension, for five years, of activity in telecommunications and can go to jail if they repeat these actions. We will apply the law regardless of their surname, regardless of who their families are", he said.

The private television station Globovision has called for street protests against the measure. Cabello responded: "If you want to protest do so, but do not try to subvert the constitutional order, or call violent protests."

Around 200 people gathered to protest the decision outside the offices of CNB on August 1. On August 3,a small group of journalists rallied in front of CONATEL.

However, many Venezuelans have little sympathy for the private media due to its role in the April 2002 coup that briefly ousted President Hugo Chavez from power.

Private television and radio stations collaborated directly with the coup regime and imposed a media blackout, broadcasting cartoons and soap operas.

On July 23, the National Association of Free and Alternative Community Media held a rally in Caracas calling for radio and television airwaves to be handed over to the people. Then on August 2, several hundred people rallied in front of CONATEL in support of the government measure.

Mireya Bolet, a councillor and resident of Chacao who attended the rally, said: "I'm totally in agreement with the measure that minister Diosdado Cabello has taken of placing the airwaves in the hands of the Venezuelan people."

On August 1, Chavez confirmed that the 34 stations were operating outside the law and would be handed over to community media.

He said the measure should be supported because the "radio stations now belong to the people and not the bourgeoisie".

He stressed that the people must be the owners of the strategic means of production, and that the Bolivarian government is working on the recovery of other sectors.

[Reprinted from Venezuelanalysis.com.]