Ten days after the embattled Venezuelan broadcaster RCTV, now called RCTV Internacional, resumed broadcasting via cable and satellite on 16 July, a new threat emerged yesterday that could result in its being removed from cable service distribution by 1 August. The government stripped RCTV of its terrestrial broadcast licence on 27 May.
Mario Seijas, the president of the Venezuelan Chamber of Subscription Television, yesterday said RCTV Internacional had five days to register as a national broadcaster under a provision of the National Commission for Telecommunications (Conatel) that was introduced by the Radio and TV Social Responsibility Law of 2004.
This provision in theory requires any broadcaster operating in Venezuela to be formally registered as a “national broadcasting producer.” The authorities have said that if RCTV Internacional does not comply, its programming will cease to be available by cable on 1 August.
RCTV Internacional responded with a statement disputing that it has to register as a national broadcaster. Legally, it said, RCTV Internacional is “an international TV station producing programmes to be broadcast worldwide, just like Telesur, Warner, HBO, Sony, History Channel, Sunchannel, E ! Entertainment Television and A&E Mundo.” The stations cited are all available by cable in Venezuela.
Currently available by cable and satellite in Venezuela, Trinidad and Tobago and part of the Netherlands Antilles, RCTV Internacional is going after international Spanish-speaking viewers, not only in Latin America but also in the United States and Europe.
RCTV said in its statement that it was seeking the same treatment as Telesur regarding the system of “cadenas,” in which privately-owned broadcasters are required to simultaneously retransmit the president's speeches and other government messages when they are broadcast by the state media. A public TV station which gets most of its funding from the Venezuelan government and which broadcasts terrestrially and by cable, Telesur has been exempted from the “cadena” system for its cable broadcasts.
The day after RCTV resumed cable and satellite broadcasting, the Venezuelan authorities said the law would be amended in order to extend the “cadena” system to privately-owned cable and satellite broadcasters as well as terrestrial broadcasters.
“Assuming RCTV does have to register as a ‘national broadcast producer,' why did the Venezuelan authorities wait 10 days to notify the station of this, leaving it just five days to complete the formalities,” Reporters Without Borders asked. “Why was this question not raised immediately? Finally, and above all, why did this issue emerge at the very moment that RCTV was returning to the screen via cable and satellite?”
The press freedom organisation added: “The other international cable stations have never had to submit to this requirement. The government's intentions are all too obvious. This is another attempt at censorship. The government always denied that it was closing down RCTV when it terminated its terrestrial broadcasting. But what else will it have done if it now makes RCTV unavailable by cable?”
19.07.07 - Government wants to force cable and satellite TV stations to carry president's speeches
The resumption of broadcasting by Radio Caracas Televisión (RCTV) on cable and satellite on 16 July has been followed by an announcement by information and communication minister William Lara that the law will amended to force pay-TV cable and satellite broadcasters to carry the same occasional government programming that terrestrial broadcasters are already obliged to transmit.
The system of “cadenas” (obligatory simultaneous broadcasts) was established by the telecommunications law of 2000 and the broadcast media social responsibility law of 2004. It allows the government to take over all the terrestrial frequencies whenever it wants to broadcast official messages.
It is used mainly by President Hugo Chávez to force the privately-owned media to simultaneously retransmit his speeches when they are broadcast by the state media. Privately-owned broadcasters are fined when they do not comply.
Lara announced on a state-owned radio station that pay-TV stations will also have to “retransmit the national anthem and connect to the ‘cadenas' of the government, the National Electoral Council and other state authorities.” He added that the required amendments to the existing broadcasting laws would be incorporated into an upcoming law that will empower President Chávez to govern by decree, without going through parliament.
Many cable and satellite TV broadcasters including RCTV (which renamed itself RCTV Internacional after being forced off the terrestrial broadcast frequencies on 27 May) are registered as foreign companies. RCTV's headquarters are now located in the United States and the station has said it would not submit to the system of “cadenas”.
12.07.07 - Stripped of its terrestrial frequency, RCTV to resume broadcasting by cable and satellite
Reporters Without Borders today reiterated its call for Radio Caracas Televisión (RCTV) to be allowed to resume free terrestrial broadcasting after learning that the privately-owned broadcaster will resume transmission by cable and satellite to paying subscribers on 16 July. The government refused to renew RCTV's terrestrial broadcast licence a month and a half ago.
“Since losing its terrestrial licence on 27 May, RCTV has managed to have one of its news programme carried by another terrestrial broadcaster with a more limited audience, namely Globovisión,” the press freedom organisation said. “Its reappearance on cable and satellite would not enable it to reach the same number of viewers it used to have when it was a terrestrial broadcaster. For this reason, and in view of the serious irregularities surrounding the government's refusal to renew its licence, we are calling for RCTV to be allowed back on the airwaves.”
RCTV is to resume broadcasting at 6 a.m. on 16 July on channel 103 of Direct TV, a satellite service available to subscribers, and on Inter and Net Uno, two Venezuelan pay TV services supplied by cable.
The country's most popular TV station, RCTV was already broadcasting by cable and satellite before the withdrawal of its concession on 27 May. But it had to suspend all forms of broadcasting as the new public TV station that replaced it on terrestrial channel 2, Televisora Venezolana Social (Tves), also took over its cable and satellite access.
Furthermore, the government also bought up CANTV, Venezuela's main phone and cable service provider, shortly before the withdrawal of RCTV's concession.
“Public interest in seeing or re-seeing our programmes has increased considerably since 27 May,” an RCTV journalist told Reporters Without Borders. “Abroad, stations such as Mexico's biggest broadcaster, Televisa, have even decided to transmit some of our news programmes as well as the game and entertainment programmes we were already supplying them. Our news and current affairs programmes can obviously be viewed on our website and are often posted on other sites such as YouTube or Venezuelapress.com by Internet users.”
Under an agreement reached last month, Globovisión is retransmitting one of RCTV's news programmes every evening. The only remaining terrestrial broadcaster not to adopt a pro-government editorial policy, Globovisión nonetheless broadcasts only in the Caracas region and its requests to cover a bigger area of the country have been turned down.
For its switch to cable and satellite, RCTV has re-labelled itself RCTV Internacional with a view to extending its coverage to all of Latin America and parts of the United States.
In the meantime, the broadcaster's legal and financial wrangling with the government continues. On 25 May, two days before the expiry of its broadcast licence, the supreme court ordered that all of RCTV's broadcast equipment should be “put at the disposal” of the new public station Tves. However, the 2000 telecommunications law states that, while the broadcast frequencies belong to the state, the equipment belongs to the broadcasters. The head of RCTV estimates that the order would cost the group “140 million dollars.”