Venezuelan congress attempts legal reform to regularize licenses for hundreds of radio and TV stations

By Yenibel Ruiz

The Organic Telecommunications Law could change in Venezuela after José Gregorio Correa, a member of Congress for the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD by its initials in Spanish), presented a reform proposal before the Communications Media Commission of the National Assembly.

Among the proposed reforms are changes to the articles relating to the renewal and length of radio spectrum use concessions, according to the Efecto Cocuyo website.

“With this reform we are seeking to regularize the situation of more than 400 radio and television stations whose concessions are not up to date,” Correa said, according to Efecto Cocuyo.

“The reform will make it possible for all users to have a law that guarantees timely, adequate, and truthful information the moment that the news takes place and for each of the stations to have a concession with legal certainty, which is not currently the case,” added Correa, according to the newspaper El Universal.

Enza Carbone, president of the Venezuelan Chamber of Radio Broadcasting Industry who was present at the meeting, affirmed that about 200 stations affiliated with the Chamber are awaiting the renewal of their concessions by the National Telecommunications Commission (Conatel by its initials in Spanish), according to El Universal.

At the beginning of February, the Inter American Press Association (IAPA) reported that at least 800 radio stations, as well as all of the television channels, have expired concessions.

For the IAPA, the government of President Nicolás Maduro has not resolved this situation as a mechanism to pressure media to change their editorial line.

In this regard, during the presentation of the reform proposal, Congress member Gaby Arellano proposed that Conatel, the organism charged with granting and renewing concessions, no longer be made up of members directly elected by the President, proposing that it be a collegial body.

“Where the Assembly would have the authority, together with the Academy and the rest of Congress, as well as the appropriate entities, to select those five people and that the Executive could designate two other people,” Arellano said, according to El Universal.

Nevertheless, in terms of the authorities’ actions on this issue, Tania Díaz, member of Congress for the ruling party, said that “there has not been any intention to restrict, rather the goal has been to democratize the radio spectrum,” reported the National Journalism School.

For his part, the general director of Conatel, William Castillo, complained that no officials from that entity had been invited to the meeting, as reported by Efecto Cocuyo.

“In accordance with the law, we will go before the Communications Media Commission of the National Assembly whenever we may be summoned to debate issues related to communication,” he wrote through his Twitter account.

Days later, in a series of tweets, Castillo criticized the proposed reform characterizing it as a proposal from the “right” and an effort to privatize the radio spectrum.

This reform would also seek to solve the situation of radios that are operating illegally. According to Carbone, there are 1,500 “pirate or clandestine” stations that operate throughout the country creating a social problem by not having “any kind of control,” according to El Universal.

Regarding the issue of concessions, in September 2015 the Venezuelan state was condemned by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) in the case of Canal RCTV, whose license was not renewed.

The IACHR considered that this decision violated the right to freedom of speech given that it was based on discriminatory criteria “with the objective of editorially aligning the media outlet with the government.”

In its decision, beyond reestablishing RCTV’s signal and redress for the victims, the Court ordered Venezuela to “take the necessary measures in order to guarantee that all future frequency allocation and renewal processes […] be carried out in an open, independent, and transparent manner.”

Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.