Venezuela: Law on Social Responsibility of Radio, Television and Electronic Media
09 Dec 2011
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In November 2011, ARTICLE 19 analysed the Law on Social Responsibilities on Radio, Television and Electronic Media of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela for its compliance with international standards on freedom of expression. The Law, published on 22 December 2010 is an amendment to the 2004 Law on Social Responsibility on Radio and Television. While proponents had applauded the 2004 Law as modernising the country’s communication structure, critics had seen it as a naked attempt to gain control over private broadcast media.
The 2010 amended Law extends the power of the state to control electronic media in the same way as traditional broadcasting. The Law aims at “establishing social responsibility” for all participants and “to set a balance between their duties, liberties and rights”. While these purposes are recognised as legitimate by international law, ARTICLE 19 is concerned by four aspects of the law.
Firstly, the Law includes no safeguards against disproportionate and arbitrary restrictions on freedom of expression. In particular, there is no requirement for restrictions to meet the three-party test established by international law. In light of the severity of the provided sanctions, and the unnecessarily intrusive nature of certain restrictions, such an omission has troubling implications for freedom of expression.
Secondly, the Law fails to secure the independence of the broadcast regulators. While several regulatory bodies are established to implement the law, all are either part of the government or controlled by the government. This contradicts international standards and further exposes media regulators to arbitrary and politically-motivated decisions.
Thirdly, the Law contains some unclear prohibitions – with sanctions in place for “[encouraging] anxiety amount citizenry”, or “[disregarding] legitimate authorities” - which risk being used arbitrarily to place broadcast media under political control and to limit media pluralism.
Finally, the Law contains broad provisions for state control over the internet, with electronic media being regulated in the same way as traditional broadcasting. Such an approach to Internet regulation impedes both the right to freedom of expression and the right to privacy.
Among its recommendations, ARTICLE 19 therefore calls on the Venezuelan Government to change the Law on Social Responsibilities on Radio, Television and Electronic Media so as to:
- Remove unnecessarily restrictive interferences with freedom of expression from the law, and introduce legal safeguards against any future abuses.
- Ensure broadcast regulatory bodies are fully independent from the government and accountable to the public.
- Clearly define its prohibitions and restrictions on freedom of expression.
Pursue a different and less restrictive approach to the regulation of the Internet.