Archive for February 11th, 2003

A comment on the proposed Content Bill

February 11, 2003


I have said little about the proposed content law that is being discussed in the National Assembly. Essentially, there is simply no space here to discuss the extent of what the Government wants to do. I have had the patience of reading both the proposed law and the introduction to it. It is not recommended reading, it is too long, it is too extensive and in my opinion, this is not what democracy is about.

            I would like to discuss just two aspects of the bill as proposed by the Chavez administration. First of all, it regulates content for media in Venezuela. That is, those TV stations that have some form of concession within Venezuela. Now, we also have Direct TV and Cable in Venezuela, some of which provide over 100 channels of television. By having to follow what the bill establishes, Venezuelan TV channels will be competing unfairly as the foreign TV stations would not have the regulations that the local stations have including among other things: i) Providing subtitles and sign language of all programs. ii) Providing three regulated schedules of programming, protected, supervised and adult. iii) Providing 60% of all programming made in Venezuela. iv) Providing three hours a day of Venezuelan music within the protected hour v) Broadcasting 60 free minutes a week for Government programming and vi) Prohibiting content which may attempt against the education of boys, girls and adolescents.

            I could go on about all of the regulations but I would just point out three things. First, any media that violates the law will be fined. Any media that is fined twice in five years can be suspended. Any media that is suspended temporarily twice in three years will have its licensed revoked. Now, imagine 150 articles of regulation with definitions, prohibition and requirements. It would be very easy for any Government that wants to regulate free speech to find a violation of an article or a violation that is subject to interpretation. The proof is simple; this is my translation of one of the prohibitions proposed in the new law:


“Any message that promotes, apologizes (??) or incites the disrespect for the legitimate institutions or authorities such as: Deputies of the Nacional Assembly, the President, Vice-President, Ministers, and Justices of the Supreme Court, the Attorney General, and the People’s ombudsman. the Comptroller, the authorities of the National Electoral Commission  and the Armed Forces, without prejudice to the legitimate exercise of freedom of speech and opinion, within the limits (??) established in the Constitution, in international treaties ratified by the Republic and the law”


Interestingly, if this text were strictly applied, the State TV station would have to be shutdown first as Hugo Chavez would be the first violator given his disrespect  for the Supreme Court. (Unless calling a Supreme Court decision “a piece of shit” like Chavez did is not disrespect). But obviously, the paragraph above would severely restrict what can be said about any public official, for fear of being shut down. Try to imagine Watergate, Clinton’s Monica affair or Irangate revelaed if the US President had had such a law behind him at that time.