Get ready for the accusations to fly as Venezuela democratizes media

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Finding Clarity in the 21st Century Mediaplex

Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela

Opposition Media Dogs Salivate Over Venezuela’s New Cable TV Law

By Arturo Rosales and Les Blough in Caracas. Axis of Logic

Axis of Logic

Friday, Jun 12, 2009

chavezSuporter

Chavez supporter.

The Special Law on Subscription Television is now before the Venezuelan National Assembly. Its contents will be debated by the national deputies and could be on the statute book by the end of July 2009. They’ll be like salivating dogs gathered around a juicy bone when the western media gets wind of the new Cable TV law under discussion. Once again, they’ll be unhinged in their reactions with the same tired declarations – that President Chavez is dictatorial, harnassing more power to silence his critics. (Interesting that these attacks often carry a footnote, “Venezuela is the world’s 4th largest supplier of petroleum in the world). The so called “Liberals” on the East Coast of the U.S. along with the “human rights” orgs, freedom of the press advocates and some NGOs will join the chorus, valiantly crying out in defense of “free speech”. Their dwindling audience has seen this circus so many times they begin to nod even as the contortionist twists his wordy knot on the Washington Post and the trapezist leaps the platform of Reporters Without Borders, in another truth-defying performance. Their mundane predictability even stifles debate on the issue, raising questions only about the motivation and sanity of the critics.

When passed, the new law will grant powers to CONATEL (similar to the FCC in the U.S.) to regulate all subscription channels entering Venezuelan homes either by cable or satellite. Conatel will have the legal power to “authorize, suspend and revoke” the broadcast licenses of both, TV and radio channels, carried by cable and satellite. Before we examine this new Cable TV law and the related uproar, it’s important that we find context for the discussion in similar laws in other countries. There is no finer example for this exercise than in the U.S. So we’ll review the FCC, it’s authority, functions and relation to government before moving on to Venezuela. Sound boring? What’s about to happen with the new Cable TV law in Venezuela is anything but.

FCC, THE COMMUNICATIONS ACT AND CABLE TV IN THE U.S.

FCC structure and powers: Venezuela’s CONATEL is similar to the FCC in the U.S. and their Organic Telecommunications Law is comparable to the Communications Act in the U.S.. The US media law was passed by an act of Congress in 1934. It is divided into Titles and all U.S. media is subject to FCC jurisdiction and the Communications Act except for Government radio stations. The five members of the FCC are appointed by the President and approved by Senate and the President designates one member to serve as chairman. Title 3 of the act defines the powers of the FCC and prohibits it from “exercising censorship over broadcast stations” but also regulates content (e.g. they prohibit broadcasting of “obscene or indecent language”). Title 3 also requires broadcast stations “to afford equal opportunity to candidates seeking political office, and formally included provisions for rebuttal of controversial viewpoints under the contested Fairness Doctrine.”

Enforcement: The reality is that the FCC uses these regulations selectively, as demonstrated by any cursory review of television and radio programming in the U.S. Among the FM radio “shockjocks”, mid-day soaps and the New York prime time sitcoms obscene language and other indecent content is the rule rather than the exception.

Fairness Doctrine: The FCC’s “Fairness Doctrine” is clearly a ruse. This can be seen in the absence in media of any real opponents of politicians in the Republican and Democrat political parties. For example, when have any members of socialist or communist political parties, running for political office, been given “equal opportunity” to challenge insider politicians on radio and television in the U.S.? Instead, they are nearly always subjects of ridicule, dismissed as “radicals” if acknowledged at all. Another example is the FCC rule that broadcasters are required to disclose their funding sources and sponsors. Sounds good, sounds simple. But any attempt to have this rule enforced against an offending media corporation is lost in the costly, complicated litigation involved. For example, visit the FCC case of Armstrong Williams who didn’t disclose his funding source (Dept. of Education) when he was promoting George Bush’s No Child Left Behind program. The case ended with a wrist-slap of $40,000 which was surely dwarfed by the lawyers’ fees alone. Just reading this legalistic tripe is an eye-crossing experience.

The sophistry of the “Fairness Doctrine” is also seen in the dearth of any real ideological or political debate on U.S. radio or television. Government tongues like ABC, CBS and NBC limit debate to carefully crafted shows like “Meet the Press” and “60 Minutes”, creating an illusion of media dissent but the foundations of the political/economic system are never challenged. Atrocities like Abu Graib and the rape and murder of a 14 year old Iraqi girl and her family by a U.S. soldier get attention when they can no longer be ignored (often thanks to the alternative media on the Internet) – but the corporate media has never really allowed the mounting of a serious challenge to the underlying assumptions of capitalism, imperialism, war and colonisation.

Monopoly ownership:  At one time, the FCC adopted the “Seven Station Rule” which “limited the number of stations that could be owned by a single corporate entity.” A mouthpiece for the U.S. broadcast media (Museum of Broadcast Communications), tries to explain the pretzel logic that dissolved the Seven Station Rule and gave complete control to a handful of media moguls:

“Multiple-Ownership and Cross-Ownership [FCC] restrictions dealt with similar problems and monitored multiple ownership of media outlets–newspapers, radio stations, television stations–in regions and locations. Rules restricting multiple ownership of cable and broadcast television were also applied in specific situations. However, as more radio and television stations were licensed, restrictions limiting owners to few stations, a limitation originally meant to protect diversity of viewpoint in the local market, made less sense to the commission. In 1985, recognizing greater market competition, the commission relaxed ownership rules. In the years that followed, restrictions on Ascertainment, Limits on Commercials, Ownership, Anti-Trafficking, Duopoly and Syndication and Financial Interest Rules were also eased.

Cable TV: Finally, Title VI of the Communications Act gave the FCC regulatory power over Cable TV in 1992.

“Many of the alterations have been in response to the numerous technical changes in communications that have taken place during the FCC’s history, including the introduction of television, satellite and microwave communications, cable television, cellular telephone, and PCS (personal communications) services.”

In conclusion, how is CONATEL and their authority to control program content and ownership in Venezuela any different than the FCC and their authority to control the same in the U.S.? How is their authority to control Cable TV different? Let’s take a look at the new law being debated before the National Assembly (congress) in Caracas.

CONATEL, THE ORGANIC TELECOMMUNICATIONS ACT AND CABLE TV IN VENEZUELA

The new law being debated in the Venezuela National Assembly would bring Cable TV, for the first time, under the authority of the Consejo Nacional de Telecomunicaciones (CONATEL) and related broadcasting laws and regulations. All well and good, but what laws and regulations will govern the behavior of Cable TV channels? Before we look at them, let’s learn a little about CONATEL.

CONATEL: This is the authority in Venezuela for regulating broadcaset media. Generally, their responsibilities parallel those of the FCC in the U.S. Up until the year 2000, audiovisual broadcasts were regulated by CONATEL under the Telecommunications Law of 1940 which was established before television came to Venezuela. In order “to adapt to the technological, social, and cultural changes witnessed in the latter half of the 20th century”, Venezuelan lawmakers passed the Organic Telecommunications Act of 2000. One of the most important laws affecting Cable Television will be the Law of Social Responsibility (LSR).

Law of Social Responsibility in Radio and Television (LSR): As part of this initiative, the legislature passed the LSR in 2003 which, according to the Venezuelan Information Office, is:

“… intended to uphold freedom of expression and information, support parents by limiting daytime media content deemed inappropriate for children and adolescents, encourage the broadcast of more educational programming on TV and radio, guarantee citizen participation in the communications sector, and promote growth within the country’s communications industry, among others.”

The LSR is based upon the principles of “freedom to express ideas, opinions, and thoughts, free and plural communication, the prohibition of prior censorship, responsibility, democratization, participation, social responsibility, social solidarity, sovereignty, national security, free competition, and the radio-electric spectrum as a public domain.” The LSR guarantees:

  • Legal means for families and the general population
  • Respect for freedom of expression and interpretation, without censorship.
  • Effective exercise and respect for human rights.
  • An increase in social and cultural information and material geared to children and adolescents that could lead the progressive and comprehensive development of their personality, aptitudes, mental and physical capacity, tolerance for others, and social conscience.
  • The encouragement of domestic and domestic independent productions.
  • Balance between the duties, rights, and interests of people, radio and television service providers, and related parties.
  • Dissemination of Venezuelan cultural values.
  • Needs of hearing-impaired individuals.
  • Promotion of an active participation of the citizenry.

Implications for Cable/Satellite TV: Until now, only open air broadcast television stations came under the control of CONATEL, the LSR and related laws. Unlike satellite & cable TV in the United States and neighboring Colombia which is regulated, Cable/satellite TV stations in Venezuela were free to broadcast what and when they wanted until now. The new law before the National Assembly would place all satellite and cable television stations in Venezuela under the same laws that regulate all television channels, public, private and open air.

Under the new law, all channels, including those coming from abroad would be subject to regulation and CONATEL will have the power to ban these channels from broadcasting if they have in any way contravened Venezuelan broadcasting laws.

This will also bring local channels, which broadcast exclusively on cable and satellite, back into the legal framework of Venezuela. For example, they will not be able to change programming at the drop of a hat and will be obliged to play the National Anthem “Gloria al Bravo Pueblo” at 6am, noon and midnight as laid out in the broadcasting laws.

After the nonrenewal of RCTV’s open air license, it has been broadcasting on cable and since then, it has never broadcast the National Anthem again. The regional channels will also fall into this category and it remains to be seen if cable stations will be legally required to broadcast Presidential programs (“cadenas”). 

If the legislature passes this new Venezuelan law it will be sending a message to media owners: The privilege of broadcasting in Venezuela also carries the responsibility to respect the institutions, history and culture of the country.

Reaction to the new law – predictable: Once again the argument of violating freedom of speech and expression will be hauled out of the closet to try and make out that we are living in a dictatorship in Venezuela. But similar laws already exist in the United States and in neighboring Colombia and no one appears to complain about them. Why? Because there are no real opposition channels broadcasting in either country.

As this news has only just been made public, we await the outcry from the Venezuelan opposition, the capitalist media, human rights groups, Reporters Without Borders and others with group agendas. Their motivation can be understood simply: From 1998 forward the wealthy elites, here and abroad, have been steadily losing their grip on the laws, institutions, economy, petroleum, culture, news, entertainment and most of all, the minds of the people of Venezuela. The Venezuelan opposition parties are joined at the hip with their paymasters in Washington. They and their offspring worship the values spawned in Hollywood and New York media. For generations, they abandoned traditional Venezuelan values, love of country, appreciation for our history and our people. Sadly, by adopting the customs, values and lifestyles of their colonizers, they have undergone a basic group personality change that is difficult if not impossible to reverse. If President Chavez walked on water today, they’d attribute it to demon-possession and any new law that is passed under his administration will be drawn and quartered with whatever frenetic ideas that happen to poke the brain of the latest wannabee “journalist” trying to find fame as a writer or just wanting to please his boss.

None of their typical attacks will stand under reasoned scrutiny or the facts presented herewith. But that won’t stop the capitalist print and broadcast media from hammering the same old rusty nails into the same old ‘bored’ … unrelentingly. One positive thing in this opposition to democracy and free speech is that their repetitious pounding has become background noise for more and more people who simply are not listening anymore.

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

Arturo Rosales is a seasoned journalist who has worked in several Latin American countries. Since 1999 he has been writing on a volunatary basis to disseminate the truth about environmental and energy issues which are often obfuscated in the corporate media. With the advent of the Bolivarian revolution he turned his hand to more politically angled writing, especially when analyzing the effects and strategy of the Global Corporate Empire on the third world and Latin America in particular. Currently, Arturo is a staff writer for Axis of Logic.”

Les Blough is founding editor of axisoflogic.com. He has been writing political essays for many years and poetry since his youth. He earned an B.A. in psychology at the University of Tennessee and an M.S. in counseling psychology at Penn State University. During his 8 years of college and graduate school, he worked at the Tennessee State Prison (Nashville, TN) and at Rockview State Penitentiary (Bellefonte, PA.). Following his professional training, he worked as the director of a research clinic at a University of Pennsylvania teaching hospital in Williamsport, PA. This employment was followed by work as a psychotherapist and rehabilitation counselor in Boston, MA. He opened his own practice in Boston in 1988 where he worked as a psychotherapist, vocational evaluator and expert witness. In earlier years, following his theological training at Bob Jones University (1961-1965), he was ordained as a Christian minister, and served as pastor of a church in Pennsylvania for over 6 years. He has terminated his private practice in psychology to devote himself as an activist, correspondent and full-time editor of Axis of Logic.

MORE ARTICLES BY ARTURO ROSALES AND LES BLOUGH

The original version of this piece may be found at

http://axisoflogic.com/artman/publish/Article_56004.shtml

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