Venezuela curbs Internet time for dissent
Caracas, Venezuela (UPI) Dec 22, 2010
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez extended his powers over what remains of the country's independent press, casting the government net wider to equate the Internet with the broadcast media to introduce new rules of conduct for journalists and publishers.
Chavez announced measures that introduced fines and other punitive measures against Web site owners or publishers who fall afoul of the government's interpretation of what constitutes fair comment or damaging dissent.
With more of Venezuelan voices of opposition set to migrate to online publications outside the reach of the government's restrictive measures, Globovision's outspoken broadcasting was seen as the likeliest next target for an official crackdown, analysts said.
The television channel has been openly critical of the Chavez administration and has several cases awaiting trial.
Chavez defended the curbs, arguing they would help protect Venezuela's citizenry against online crimes.
"We aren't eliminating the Internet here ... nor censoring the Internet," Chavez said. "What we're doing is protecting ourselves against crimes, cyber crimes," MercoPress reported.
A revised Social Responsibility Law, approved by the National Assembly, extends broadcast rules to the Internet.
The law prohibits transmission or dissemination of messages and images that could be disrespectful toward public authorities, incite hatred or even engender "anxiety" among the general public or endanger public order.
The law also put the onus on the electric media to make amends without delay to avoid fines. This may entail not just removal of content seen as objectionable but also blocking of any content deemed by the government to be against its interests.
By designating broadcasting media as a public service that is geared toward public interest, the government has given itself additional powers to control radio and television.
Broadcast licenses, until now valid for 20 years unless canceled by the government, will be valid for 15 years and even then will be subject to summary withdrawal at the government's discretion.
Chavez secured extensive decree powers in an assembly vote pushed by pro-government lawmakers. The new powers mean Chavez can pass laws without recourse to congress for the next 18 months, which will take him to the run-up to the next presidential election in 2012. Chavez has indicated he expects to run for president again.
The decree powers practically render the newly elected assembly powerless before it convenes Jan. 5. Chavez's United Socialist Party lost its two-thirds majority in the September polls.
Chavez says he needs the decree powers to fast-track legislation and raise funds for relief efforts after rains killed 45 people and left more than 150,000 homeless or in government shelters. Opposition members accused Chavez of using the poor weather as an excuse to weaken the new congress.
"People displaced by the rains are wondering what will happen to them after a year, so we propose that we extend the decree powers to 18 months," Cilia Flores, head of the National Assembly and a pro-Chavez lawmaker said on the official ANTV. She said the flood-displaced citizens had "asked us to modify the time period."
Chavez, who has ruled by decree three times earlier during his nearly 12 years in office, plans to raise the value-added tax to finance new homes for the displaced persons. Initial estimates put flood damage at more than $10 billion.
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