Media legislation

The authoritarian course that started during the government of Hugo Chávez has been strengthened during Nicolás Maduro’s one. Three laws must be mentioned when analysing the media legislation in Venezuela: All of them have been considered censorship tools used by the government to silence dissident voices.

In 2000 the Ley Orgánica de Telecomunicaciones (Organic Law of Telecommunications - LOTEL) was passed. It was modified in 2011, making it more restrictive and turning it into the excuse for the shutting down of media. It is the broader and main media legislation rule under the Constitution and it was the rule that gave the Conatel the power to control the sector of telecommunications and to ensure the compliance of this and all the laws applying to said sector (Díaz, 2018).

The Ley de Responsabilidad Social en Radio y Televisión (Law of Social Responsibility in Radio and Television - RESORTE) was approved by Venezuelan Parliament in 2004 under Hugo Chávez’s presidency. The goal of the law was to promote the social responsibility of all the individuals of the media system and it could be applied to all content broadcasted in radio and television. One of the most polemic rules of this law if the obligation that all radio and television stations have of broadcasting the messages that the government sees necessary. The opposition, together with international organisations such as Human Rights Watch, have considered this law a ‘Gag Law’. In 2010 it was modified in order to include Internet and social networks, expanding the control over digital media (Urribarrí & Díaz, 2018).

The Ley contra el Odio, por la Convivencia Pacífica y la Tolerancia (Law against Hate, for Pacific Coexistence and Tolerance), or simply Law against Hate, was passed in 2017 in order to control hate crimes and intolerance, with punishments of up to 20 years of prison and the closing of broadcasters. This regulation focuses particularly on online communication and social media content, as it is in the less controlled Internet where the most critics against the government or the president take place. The Parliament of Venezuela, controlled by the parties of the opposition, and now practically dissolved by the Asamblea Nacional Constituyente (National Constituent Assembly) declared the law void because of its violation of the Constitution, as well as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but it is still being applied. The main critic against this law is the lack of definition of what hate speech is, offering the chance for possible arbitrary applications of sentences to almost 20 years of jail for hate crimes (Espacio Público, 2018a).

The Constitution nominally proclaims freedom of speech and freedom of the press and at the same time it forbids censorship. This has not prevented the promulgation of the previous laws, but it could be the basis for future less restrictive laws once/if the current authoritarianism is over. Finally, although enshrined in the Constitution and in the Law of the Superior Court, the only legislation regulating data protection in Venezuela, the Providencia Administrativa N 171, allows the state to access the private data of telecommunications users, including information such as photos or fingerprints of users.

These three laws, including the RESORTE, which is the one paying most attention to digital media, do not include any specificities about the issue of data protection (Privacy International, IHRC & Acceso Libre, 2016). The violation of data privacy has been a political tool, with the publication of the Lista Tascón (a list with the data of people who supported the destitution of President Chávez between 2003 and 2004) as an example (Patiño, 2018).

The Ley de la Comunicación Popular of 2015 was passed with the contribution of Venezuelan Communal Councils, which are councils of neighbours, common in rural areas, responsible for the local policies and projects. There is a Ministry among whose functions appears the coordination of these comunas, that promote participation of small communities in the distribution of public financing. The law regulating these Communal Councils was passed in 2009. These project has helped the development and the participation of indigenous population and women. In this context the 2015 law has promoted communitarian and alternative media that transcend the private and the state-owned media, to focus on the needs and development of smaller societies (Villalobos, 2016).