Reporters Without Borders today reacted with dismay as compulsory airing of President Hugo Chávez’s extremely lengthy speeches (cadenas) was extended for the first time to cable channels, meaning no Venezuelan TV viewer will be able to escape them in future.
The presidential programmes allowing the head of state to requisition unlimited airtime from all media for his live speeches, under Article 10 of the Law of Social Responsiblilty in Radio and Television (Resorte law adopted in 2004), was previously limited to terrestrian fequencies.
But under a little-noticed public decree published in the official journal on 22 December 2009, cable channels will also be subjected to the same rule.
Public or private, all media of which 70% of its output is national will under threat of a fine or even “official suspension” be forced to link up to the frequency of the major state TV channel, Venezolana de Televisión (VTV) during a presidential “cadena”. In addition to his cadenas, the president presents his own Sunday programme on this channel, “Aló Presidente”.
“The Hugo Chávez government has taken yet another step towards monopolising public discussion and further gagging the voices of detractors, including that of the highly critical RCTV Internacional, which has been targeted since it supported the coup against Hugo Chávez of 11 April 2002”, the worldwide press freedom organisation said.
“The head of state’s seizure of media space has absolutely nothing to do with any move to pluralist and quality news and information,” it added.
RCTV Internacional, which was removed from terrestrial frequency on 27 May 2007, was able to resume broadcasting on cable from the following July. As a result, the channel narrowly escaped a new suspension because it did not register itself as a “national broadcast producer”. Venezuela’s telecoms regulator (CONATEL) had to accept this position in the absence of specific legislation about cable television. The 22 December 2009 decree will now allow the government to force RCTV Internacional to accept the “cadenas”.
President Chávez waged a crusade against the oppositon press during 2009 and to get control of the media landscape, closing 34 broadcast media on 1st August 2009 followed by the announced takeover of 29 further frequencies on the pretext of “developing community media”. The frequency of one of the closed media, the privately-owned and still free AN Radio, was assigned to Venezuela’s National Assembly that has been broadcasting on this signal since 15 December 2009.