Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is taking steps to tighten restrictions on the media despite mounting opposition by private media to a series of proposed reforms that would expose them to criminal prosecution.
Chavez supporters argue that the measures limiting broadcasting rights for radio and television will lead to a significant “democratization” of the media, which has been controlled by a handful of owners.
“We will launch a strong fight for the democratization of communication, to break the media oligarchy in Venezuela,” Communication and Information Minister Blanca Eekhout said recently.
In a recent report, National Telecommunications Commission (Conatel) chief Diosdado Cabello said 27 families have “privileged ownership” of 32 percent of the radio broadcast industry.
But for Chavez’s opposition, this “now or never” approach to the media is just the latest onslaught on press freedoms by the firebrand leftist leader, who has never forgiven the privately owned media for backing a failed coup against him in 2002.
“The only player that exposes many of the things the government is doing is the media, and the government feels it has to regulate them,” professor Marcelino Bisbal, editor of the book “Communication Hegemony and Control,” told AFP.
He said the government is developing eight new laws or reforms of existing laws that will have an impact on the media, including one that creates a new set of “media crimes” punishable with prison sentences.
Until now media companies and executives have been subjected to administrative penalties, but if the proposed changes are adopted they could face criminal charges in the future.
So much for any semblance of free speech in Venezuela. Calling this “the democratization of communication” is an offense against reality. Hugo Chavez is doing his best to ensure that an 1984-style society becomes reality in Venezuela.