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Controversial media-law changes approved in Venezuela

By the CNN Wire Staff
Critics say the changes will let Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez clamp down on his opposition more easily.
Critics say the changes will let Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez clamp down on his opposition more easily.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Critics say the measures could give the government the power to censor
  • The reforms to the laws were passed Monday
  • The government says the laws protect freedom of expression in the country
RELATED TOPICS
  • Venezuela
  • Media
  • Internet
  • Globovision

(CNN) -- Two measures that critics say will give Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez more leeway to clamp down on opposition voices were approved by the Venezuelan National Assembly.

Changes to the Organic Telecommunications Law and the Social Responsibility on Radio and Television Law were passed

Monday night.

One of the most controversial amendments to the telecommunications law, which would have created a government-run internet hub, had been stripped from the bill earlier. Critics said that a hub could be used as a government filtering tool.

As passed, the law classifies the use of telecommunications networks as a "public service," something that could give the government more discretion to regulate the industry.

Another change in the law seems aimed at opposition broadcaster Globovision, and could limit its transmission to two areas.

The social responsibility media law, meanwhile, was amended to bring internet providers within its jurisdiction.

The goal of the law is to establish "social responsibility" in those who provide, television, radio and internet service. The law affects all text, images, sound or context sent or received in Venezuela.

The reformed law will split the day into periods, with restrictions on what language, sexual content and violence can be broadcast at certain times.

It also explicitly states that no broadcaster or internet provider can broadcast things that incite hate, cause "anxiety or unrest among the public order," or promote the assassination of leaders.

The law states that internet providers must have mechanisms that, at the request of telecommunications regulator, could restrict messages and access to websites that break laws.

Providers could be fined if they are found to be in violation of the rules.

Supporters of the change say it will bring Venezuela in line with other countries that regulate activity on the internet and protect children, while opposition lawmakers say it sets the stage for government control of the internet.

The Miami, Florida-based Inter-American Press Association also condemned the move.

"With the new rules for the Internet, among fines for service providers and the requirement that users not write anonymously or touch on issues that the government might not like, we are witnessing a deep and generalized censorship of news content and personal communications which goes against journalists' and media's right to publish and amounts to contempt of the public's right to communicate freely," IAPA President Gonzalo Marroquin said in a statement.

Lawmaker Manuel Villalba, a Chavez supporter in charge of the commission on science, technology and media, said that the passage of the laws demonstrates that the Venezuelan government is committed to freedom of expression.

"It is a reform that is perfectly consistent with the law, with the national constitution. It doesn't violate a single right," Villalba said, according to the state-run AVN news agency. "Today, with this approval, the freedom of expression in Venezuela is reaffirmed."

 
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