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Venezuela: The muzzle law is enacted, a brief explanation

By Miguel Octavio

09.12.04 | First of all, let me clarify concepts: There are two instruments that threaten the freedom of the media, the first one is the “gag” or “muzzle” law, otherwise known as the Social Responsibility Bill of radio and TV and there is a quick fix the Chavistas are making to the penal code in order to prohibit or punish many forms of protest and criticism of the Government and members of the Government. The second is not ready yet, but it was approved on the first round and is being rushed to be approved before the end of the year. This is the one that I discussed last night as it penalizes offenses against the President, pot banging, demonstrations and the like.

What was approved this week and came out in the official gazette is the gag law. This law applies to broadcasting concessions in radio and TV and will not apply to newspapers or the Internet. You need to have some form of concession from the Government.

The gag bill is absurd in its extent to begin with. It attempts to regulate everything. From the language that may be used or not, to what may be broadcast or not, to what has to be broadcast.

The bill defines what is sexually explicit to such an extent that its text is confusing referring once to the “sound of nakedness”. I tried to listen to my nakedness this morning in the shower, but failed to hear anything other than the water. It also defines violent images and sounds. The law then defines the different hours for broadcasting and when can each type of sexual, violent or whatever image be broadcast.

These parts are tricky enough, but then the real treacherous part begins at the end of Article 7:

“In the radio and TV services, when messages are broadcast live during the supervised or all users timeslot, images of real may be presented if it is indispensable to the understanding of the information…there can not be emphasis on unnecessary detail”

See this is very tricky. Who judges what is or not indispensable? What is unnecessary detail? The regulator, the Government.

The law then limits advertising to 15 minutes an hour, prohibits alcohol, tobacco, drug ads (??), gambling and lottery unless the proceeds are for charity (like all Venezuelan lotteries are), 900 numbers without having the cost explicitly, etc, etc.

Article 10 grants the Government the right o use all of the media for free.

Then it gives viewers some rights and here things get tricky again, when the law grants “independent producers” access to all media. It defines who these people are, who will approve their programs and that they have to be broadcast.

Article 14 defines that three hours a day have to be devoted to cultural and educational programs, seven hours of locally produced material of which four have to be independently produced. 50% of musical programs have to be with Venezuelan music evidencing, either geographical genera, languages, cultural values of Venezuela or Venezuelan authorship.

The real tough part of the law is in Article 29 where it specifies what the penalties will be, among them:

When the messages broadcast promote, apologize for or incite war, alterations of public order, religious intolerance, or are against the security of the Nation or made anonymously.

Of course, again the security of the nation is not well defined, making it rather easy to punish any station that promotes any criticism of the Government, the military or the people in the Government. And here my friends is the real danger. The first time as punishment, the station may be suspended for 72 hours, the second for five years. If you owned a successful TV or radio station, you would watch yourself and I think we are seeing evidence of this already.

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