Reporters Without Borders vigorously condemns the massive closure of broadcast media on allegedly “administrative grounds.” The government announced yesterday that it was withdrawing the licences of a total of 34 radio and TV stations, 13 of which already stopped broadcasting yesterday.
“In any country that respects the rule of law, a broadcast media suspected of using a frequency in an irregular manner would have been warned in advance that proceedings were being initiated against it and its representatives would have been given a chance to defend themselves or file an appeal,” Reporters Without Borders said.
“Is it still possible to publicly express any criticism at all of President Hugo Chávez’s “Bolivarian” government?” the press freedom organisation asked. “This massive closure of mainly opposition media is a dangerous for the future of democratic debate in Venezuela and is motivated by the government’s desire to silence dissent. It will just exacerbate social divisions.”
When the authorities announced the withdrawal of 34 broadcast media licences, they warned that 200 other radio and TV stations could suffer the same fate. Diosdado Cabello, the minister who supervises the National Telecommunications Commission (Conatel), said the reasons were technical and administrative inasmuch as the owners of these media were unable to demonstrate that they had broadcast licences.
The announcement set off a storm of protest. “This is the most import curb on freedom of expression ever seen in Venezuela,” said Carlos Correa, the head of Espacio Público, an NGO that defends free speech. “This is without precedent in a period of democracy,” he added.
The closures came on the heels of a government announcement that it intended to “democratise” Venezuela’s media. Attorney general Luisa Ortega Diaz presented a bill to the national assembly on 30 July providing for severe punishments for “media crimes”.
“The Venezuelan state must regulate freedom of expression,” Ortega said. “I demand that a limit be placed on this right.” The bill envisages prison sentences for those who break the 2004 Radio and TV Social Responsibility Law, which until now punished violators with fines and licence suspensions.
Under the new bill, broadcasting a “false”, “manipulated” or “distorted” report, or broadcasting reports that “harm the interests of the state” or attack “public decency” or “mental health” will be regarded as a media crime carrying a maximum sentence of four years in prison.
The bill would also punish “refusal to reveal information” and “deliberate omission of a report,” thereby jeopardising the principle of the confidentiality of journalists’ sources. These offences carry a sentence of six months to four years in prison.
These are the news media that have been closed:
In Caracas: CNB 102.3 FM.
In Amazonas: 1130 AM, owned by Erasmo Núñez, and 107.5 FM Órbita, owned by Abel Cermeño.
In Anzoátegui: Barcelona-based 970 AM, owned by José Bringa.
In Bolívar (Upata): Canal 7 TV, owned by José David Natera.
In Ciudad Bolívar: 96.9 FM, owned by Ramón Rafael Castro Mata.
In Carabobo, Valencia: 100.1 FM, Nelson Belfort Yivirin.
In Puerto Cabello: 98.3 FM, owned by Pedro Ezequiel Listuit.
In Delta Amacuro-Tucupita: 1270 AM, owned by Sócrates Hernández.
In Falcón Punto Fijo: CNB 100.1 owned by Nelson Belfort Yivirin, and 96.1 FM, owned by Ramón Jesús Méndez.
In Guárico: 99.1 FM, owned by Bernando José Donaire.
In Mérida: 106.3 FM, owned by Rubén Antonio Chirinos.
In Miranda: 1520 AM, owned by Guillermo Obel Mejías; Emisora FM, owned by Guillermo Obel Mejías ; 1550 AM, owned by Msgr Bernardo Heredia; 97.1 FM, Msgr Bernardo Heredia; 92.1 FM, Gabriel Robinson, Charallave; 1230 AM, Radio Barlovento (Caucagua); 96.9 FM, owned by Carlos Herci, based in El Hatillo.
In Nueva Esparta (Porlamar): 99.1 FM, owned by Arturo Gil Escala; 92.9 FM, Ramón Borra Gómez, and 1140 AM, owned by the Pedro Sosa Guzmán family.
In Portuguesa (Acarigua): 1170 AM, owned by Ramón Ramírez Meléndez. In Sucre: 103.3 FM and 600 AM, both owned by Luis Salazar Núñez. In Táchira: 730 AM, owned by Modesto Marchena and 94.5 FM, owned by Arturo Álvarez Leal.
Vargas Canal 26 UHF, owned by Catia La Mar and 106.9 FM, owned by Alcides Delgado.
In Zulia state: 105.1 FM, owned by Guido Briceño; 102.1 FM, owned by Luis Guillermo Gouvea; 1430 AM, owned by Ciro Ávila Moreno (Ciudad Ojeda); 1300 AM, owned by Moisés Portillo (Santa Cruz de Mar).
Picture : AFP/Yuri Cortez