Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.
This Week in Latin America, Venezuela

Venezuela Approves Changes In Media Laws; Chávez Critics Worry About Free Speech

December 22, 2010 By Staff

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

Today in Latin America

Top Story — The Venezuelan congress approved two controversial measures late Monday night that put new regulations on the country’s internet and telecommunications systems. 

One part of the legislation, article 28, is meant to prohibit television, radio or internet messages that “incite, promote or justify crime, the equivalent of war propaganda, fomenting anxiety among the citizenry or that alter the public order,” according to a statement released by the Venezuelan government

Internet sites that run afoul of the law could be fined up to $3,023 and service providers who fail to respond to government inquiries will be fined up to 4 percent of annual income. 

The new telecommunications law classifies the use of telecommunications networks as a “public service,” which could give President Hugo Chávez’s government more sway in regulating the industry. An amendment to the telecommunications law, which would have created a government-run internet hub, however was stripped from the bill. 

The law was pushed through by Chávez’s ruling Socialist Party just weeks before a new assembly comes into office in January, which is less friendly to the president. 

Many critics of Chávez worry that the measures will hinder free speech. 

There is plenty of fear “that we are heading to a situation of Internet content blocking like in China or Cuba,” said Gloria Cuenca, a communications expert at the Universidad Central de Venezuela, according to AFP

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