In order to be able to resume broadcasting, cable television station RCTV-Internacional (RCTVI) has finally agreed to register as a “producer of national broadcast content,” which means it will have to comply with the requirement to carry the president’s long speeches when they are transmitted by national network, known as “cadenas.”
The choice had been clear for RCTVI ever since it was suspended by the authorities on 24 January, either it agreed to broadcast the “cadenas” or it would not be seen on Venezuelan televisions screens again.
The station’s management has nonetheless announced its intention to create other international TV station to be called RCTV Mundo. Although it clearly aims to be a producer of international broadcast content, it remains to be seen whether it will be able to obtain a licence without having to agree to broadcast the “cadenas.”
Aside from the targeting of RCTVI, Reporters Without Borders thinks the underlying problem is the government’s insistence on broadcasting the president’s speeches live on all the national terrestrial and cable TV stations at the same time, when one would suffice. What is the point, unless it is to monopolise the airwaves?
As well as the “cadenas” and his Sunday TV programme “Aló Presidente,” President Hugo Chávez launched a new radio programme on 18 February called “De repente… Con Chávez” (Suddenly... With Chávez). It does not have a fixed time or duration. “When you hear the sound of a harp, you will know it is Chávez,” the president said during the first programme.
Photo : AFP
04.02.2010 - Five cable TV stations allowed to resume broadcasting but RCTVI still suspended
Five of the six cable TV stations that were suspended on 24 January received permission to resume broadcasting. They are American Network, Ritmo Son, Momentum (Mexicans stations), the Peruvian station America TV and TV Chile. But RCTV-Internacional (RCTVI) is still banned.
This partial U-turn by the government unfortunately tends to confirm that the 22 December decree forcing cable TV stations regarded as “national broadcasting producers” to retransmit President Hugo Chávez’s long speeches was in fact targeted against RCTVI and RCTVI alone.
There is growing concern about the reaction to this latest round in the government’s war on the media, especially after the death of two students in protests. Public works minister Diosdado Cabello, who also heads the National Telecommunications Commission (Conatel), was supposed to meet with the representatives to the affected stations at the start of the week. What became of this meeting? And above all, why impose the networked presidential broadcasts known as “cadenas” on so many stations when one would have been enough?
From the time of his installation as president on 2 February 1999 until a week ago, Chávez had spoken for a combined total of 55 days in airtime in these marathon networked broadcasts. This does not include the show called “Aló Presidente” which President Chávez himself hosts every Sunday on the main state TV station Venezolana de Televisión (VTV).
25.01.2010 - Six TV channels suspended over Chávez “cadenas”
Reporters Without Borders today condemned the government’s ‘allergic reaction’ to dissident voices in the media as six cable TV channels were suspended yesterday for declining to give airtime to interminable presidential speeches known as “cadenas”.
They were faced with the choice of having to broadcast the presidential ramblings or to disappear off the nation’s television screens. First in line for the extension of the “cadenas” to cable television was Radio Caracas Televisión (RCTV) – Internacional.
“This move, condemned by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), reveals yet again the government’s allergic reaction to dissident voices within the country’s leading broadcast media, the worldwide press freedom organisation said.
“It also underlines the use of a discriminatory law and shows up the “cadenas”, as both confiscation of public speech and as a means of coercion on media content”.
The national telecommunications commission (Conatel) decreed on 22 December 2009 that cable channels on which more than 70% of output is national will be obliged to broadcast the cadenas under Article 10 of the Law of Social Responsiblilty in Radio and Television (Resorte law) of 2004. Until now the measure applied only to terrestrial media. There is also a clause limiting the number of advertising breaks to one per programme.
-Why should the new rules apply only to one category of media, which breaks the rule of equality before the law? The law is also seriously imprecise in that it is not clear if the status of national broadcaster means that the media’s external broadcasts should be taken into account.
A list of 24 cable television channels subject to the Resorte Law was published on 21 January 2010 (160 escaped) among them RCTV – Internacional. The channel has lodged an urgent appeal with the Supreme Court of Justice (TSJ) to be recognised as an international broadcast producer and therefore protected from the new law.
On the same day, Diosdado Cabello, director of the Conatel, ordered legal proceedings against one of its top journalists, Miguel Ángel Rodríguez, for “inciting a coup”. The minister said that the president of the employers’ organisation, Fedecámaras, Noel Alvarez, used “word play” to suggest that the “issue for Venezuela was the miltary solution”, in an interview given to Miguel Ángel Rodríguez. A conviction on such such a serious charge would allow permanent closure of RCTV – Internacional, which was banned from the terrestrial network in May 2007 and returned on cable two months later seriously enraging the government.
-The issue of the right to a fair trial comes in here. RCTV-Internacional backed the 2002 coup against Hugo Chávez and the channel has never been convicted of anything in connection with this. Now the accusation comes down to words not even said by Miguel Ángel Rodríguez himself! In any event, RCTV-Internacional has the right to a fair public trial just like any other defendant. Moreover, however well founded a conviction might be against the management, is it right that all the staff should end up unemployed?
President Hugo Chávez on 23 January imposed a “cadena” on the occasion of a rally by his supporters. At midnight on the follow day, the signal was cut of the six channels “guilty” of not broadcasting it: Ritmo Son, Momentum, RCTV-Internacional, American TV, America Network and TV Chile (which one would not have suspected of being a “national broadcast producer”). No advance warning was given to the TV channels and appeals they have made before the TSJ cannot be heard at the end of the week. Instead of launching an official procedure as laid down by the Constitution, the minister Diosdado Cabello ordered the five cable operators – DirecTV, Intercable, Supercable, Net Uno and Movistar – to suspend them without warning. Since then, the minister has promised to meet today with repesentatives of the six channels, saying that the suspension was intended to show that the government was “talking seriously”.
-Yet again, the media were not allowed any chance to appeal within a reasonable timeframe. It is a flagrant violation of interAmerican jurisprudence to which Venezuela has signed up. We hope that Diosdado Cabello will keep his word and that the signal of the suspended channels will be restored. But beyond the legal aspect of this case and possible breaking of the law, the fundamental political question remains which is the principle of the “cadenas”.
The “cadenas” go much further than simple official messages. They allow President Chávez an unlimited and unheralded right to speak without any time limit on almost the entire national broadcast system. Given that Hugo Chávez also presents his own Sunday programme “Aló Presidente”, is there any real need for this? Supposing there was, why should it be necessary to force the head of state’s speeches on so many channels and even worse under threat of penalties and even suspensions? Would not one public channel be sufficient to broadcast the “cadenas”? Use of these “cadenas” violates the right of independent media to decide on their own content. It prevents free circulation of pluralist news and information. It attacks the right of Venezuelans to choose their own programmes.
Reporters Without Borders undertakes to publish the response – on the substance of the issue - of the Venezuelan government to the questions raised here.