18 February 2010

RCTVi demonstrates illegality of Venezuela media watchdog

Today's communiqué from RCTV International (RCTVi) deserves attention, and a translation:

To justify the suspension of RCTVi by cable companies, Minister Diosdado Cabello has recourse to all sorts of arguments. He started saying that RCTVi had to comply with the limitations and regulations imposed on national TV companies, given it had broadcast a high percentage of locally produced content, during the 4 months prior to 22 December 2009, when new regulations were published and came into force.

It just so happens that in the 4 months period described, RCTVi could have broadcast 100% of nationally produced content, for at that time, laws regulating allowed percentages of national versus internationally produced content were not even in place, ergo there were no limitations in this respect. The insistence in applying the law retroactively, that is during the 4 months prior to the date it came into effect, breaches the principle of irretroactivity of law.

Given national and international condemnation for the violation of this universally accepted principle, the government then argued that CONATEL (Venezuela's media watchdog) had not shut any channels, it was rather cable companies that had decided to remove RCTVi signal from its programming.

It was evident for all, as reflected in the OAS communiqué, that the government  threatened cable operators, if these failed to take off its programming TV companies that did not comply with the law. These companies, without written warnings, in total absence of administrative or legal procedures, without sentence or court orders, bowed to the government's pressure. This sets a grave precedent in human rights in Venezuela, for the government used private companies as instruments of repression.

Lastly, despite the fact that RCTVi had filled paperwork required by law with CONATEL, on 13 January 2010, that is to say, two days before the established deadline, the government tried to justify its decision arguing that RCTVi had not presented itself before the watchdog, "adopting an arrogant stance." On 8 February, RCTVi filled required documentation again, this time with CONATEL's legal council, that officially acknowledged receipt of paperwork, for the second time.

On 11 February, CONATEL replied to RCTVi, accepting that RCTVi had, in fact, handed in required paperwork and relevant documentation in the dates described, however it ruled that RCTVi was classified as a national broadcaster on the basis of programming broadcast between 22 September and 21 December 2009, that is to say applying the law retroactively, which is illegal and unconstitutional.

Thus it remains clear, firstly, that Minister Cabello argument that RCTVi had not gone to CONATEL to hand in documentation was incorrect. Secondly, the decision of classifying RCTVi as a national, rather than international, broadcaster, continues to be supported on a retroactive application of the law. Thirdly, Minister Cabello's intention has always been to exert undue pressure on cable operators so that RCTVi's signal is taken off the programming.

We carry on with the struggle of getting back the open signal that was illegally taken from us, with the certainty that soon we shall be able to provide again information and entertainment to millions of Venezuelans...

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