(Este post en español aquí)
Last week, Chavez’ hatchet man Diosdado Cabello, alias “Pretty Eyes”, came out and proposed a whole set of new regulations for radio stations and cable TV that represent another frontal attack on free speech and democracy in Venezuela.
To begin with, the whole new regulatory framework has absolutely no legal basis. Venezuelan legislation only says that nobody can control more than 10% of the radio spectrum. Thus, when Disodado Cabello argues that too much of the spectrum is owned by a few people, that is a political or personal opinion that he is now turning into law, just because his revolutionary hormones tell him to.
To begin with, the “census” of radio stations and their ownership opened by telecom regulator CONATEL in the last few months has no legal basis. To come out and say that only the original person that was assigned the concession of the radio spectrum, is simply a rule made up by Diosdado and his robolution on the spur of the moment. In the past, concessions were sold, inherited and even leased, as long as the regulator was informed. In fact, the new Telecom law that was approved in 2000, recognized the validity of those concessions and established a process by which all of the concessions in existence would be changed and turned into administrative permits within two years of the approval of the law. The process was never carried out, instead this census is opened and the Government “finds”, without explanation, that 240 of the 1004 radio stations in the country do not fulfill this “new and improved” unknown requirement, because the station was sold, the owner died or Diosdado felt like it.
And it becomes clear by now what is going to happen as Diosdado says that the radio spectrum will be “given to the people” a euphemism for “will be assigned directly by me” to whomever he wants and feels represents the “people”. We have seen this before and is another novel variation on corruption established by Chavez’ robolution.
And “Godgiven” also decides on a new criteria in arbitrary fashion: No “circuit” (network) of radio station can be comprised of more than three stations and if more, no broadcast can be longer than half an hour a day. This is simply an economic killer. Forget about nationwide news, no “circuit” can afford to have a reporter everywhere. Forget also about nationwide sports transmissions of a baseball game, no station in Apure will be able to have someone broadcast the Caracas-Magallanes game or the Serie del Caribe. The same way that on that election night in 2012, that station in Apure or Barinas, will have to be wondering when the “half hour” to broadcast the results should take place.
It also means that in the interior of the country even mild opposition voices will be silenced. As stations are no longer allowed to be part of “circuits” like Union Radio, La Mega, Onda, Exitos and the like, these regional stations will no longer be able to hear the opinions of important politicians and analysts who live in Caracas and are regularly interviewed in the largest markets of Caracas and Maracaibo and included in the nationwide programming.
But you can bet whatever you want that Chavez’ obligatory nationwide and system-wide “cadenas” forcing every radio station and TV station in the country to broadcast what he feels like saying, will not have the half hour restriction that is being imposed on everyone.
The math is clear: There are 1004 radio stations in Venezuela, 105 belong to the State, 243 are “community” radio stations and the remainder are private. Force 240 to switch to your side and the Government will have 588 radio stations on is side, an overwhelming majority. With unlimited resources to boot.
But add to that the restrictions on networks of radio stations and what you do is isolate opinions in the interior of the country to those of the Government, as the private sector will only have a string and permanent presence in the large centers of population.
All of these strategies in the end actually restrict the access to information making it less democratic, as the “new” stations, whether run by the Government or the community end up being unpopular as they want to broadcast what the political ideologues want and not what the “people” really want. Witness the case of RCTV which had all of its equipment confiscated and truned over to the Government’s TVES station which has never been able to go beyond 3-3.5% of rating, while RCTV had 35%. In fact, the great beneficiaries of the shutdown were Venevision, which captured a large fraction of the pent up demand and Direct TV and cable stations, which benefited by the increased number of subscribers looking for alternatives.
Of course, this will affect news flow, as news radio stations will be the most affected by the new rules, by in the end it restricts liberties, choice and freedom to listen to everything, whether it is Chavez’ boring (To me) Alo Presidente or Cadenas or the new and old voices of the opposition.
And there are other rules aimed at forcing “Venezuelan” foreign stations on satellite and cable TV to carry Chavez long-winded programs and speeches, simply because these represented a way out of having to listen or watch Chavez.
In the end, the Government could do the opposite, offer hundreds of frequencies to counteract the networks already in existence, that would promote diversity and democracy, but the reality is that the Government knows that nobody will listen to them. People are fed up with the constant stream of Government BS and the only way to limit the tide is to limit free speech, to reduce what the people can hear. To make it difficult to the guy in Barinas to know there is a protest in Caracas and to make it equally difficult for th guy in Caracas to know about the strike in Guayana.
It is not about democracy and free speech, it is about promoting the voice, the one and only voice of Dictator Hugo Chavez. Which is what the revolution is all about, his eternal permanence as President of Venezuela.
Next: Print media and the Internet…like everything associated with the Chavez Government, it is a jump back, it is going back to a past where people were not only less informed, but had less access to information.
It is the way of the revolution, the promotion of ignorance and the cult to a single voice and a single leader.