No Country for Narco-Novelas

Wouldn't it be nice if the Venezuelan state spent as much time and energy cracking down on actual drug trafficking as on the fictional version?

Venezuelan broadcasting authority CONATEL has just ordered satellite TV provider DirecTV, to cancel plans to broadcast “La reina del Sur”, a 2011 soap opera about a Mexican woman (played by actress Kate del Castillo) who becomes the most powerful druglord in Spain. The 63-episode soap opera comes from U.S. network Telemundo, which planned to run the culebrón on its sister channel, Telemundo Internacional.

According to CONATEL’s Director-General William Castillo, “La Reina del Sur” is a “narco-novela”  which not only violates current legislation, but also promotes “anti-values” that could harm children. Apparently the Helen Lovejoy doctrine is law in Venezuela these days.

[UPDATE: To make it all more surreal – Carolina Acosta-Alzuru reminded us in comments to this post – La Reina del Sur has already been broadcast in Venezuela! It was on Venevision Plus (the cable-only sibling of main commercial station Venevision) in 2012. Not just that, the channel prided itself over the great ratings the narco-novela had at the time.]

CONATEL has banned similar shows in the past and Castillo’s predecessor Pedro Maldonado, had a similar stance. The government even banned “Family Guy” after being shocked, shocked! by an episode involving pot.

For those uninitiated, “Narco-novelas” is a soap sub-genre dealing with drug trafficking. According to their critics, they glamorizes the life of drug lords instead of showing the damage they cause.

The trend started in Colombia years ago, a country where drugs have influenced its recent history and the model has been copied overseas. Telemundo has deployed the genre to great effect, getting excellent ratings. Even Hollywood has noticed, with the recent Netflix show “Narcos”, about the early days of one Pablo Escobar. You’ve probably heard of that one, at least.

I’ve never watched a narco-novela, so I can’t really say. But you know what I do hate? Brazen censorship.

I seriously doubt this decision is about protecting the children. This is more about reminding local cable and satellite operators who the boss is. The letter asked DirecTV to “…select its content in accordance to the legislation”. Newsflash: Carriers can’t control what the channels put on the air or not. It isn’t their call. BTW, what you’re doing is just “preemptive censorship”, which is matter of fact, unconstitutional.

Let’s remember: this is not free-to-air broadcasting we’re talking about here. This is subscription TV, paid TV. There’s no imaginable public policy rationale for the state to determine what’s on the programming grid.

But maybe, there’s another reason for this: In recent months, multiple press reports have mentioned that several government officials are being investigated by the U.S., regarding their possible involvement in drug trafficking. Perhaps the idea is to ban narco-novelas so people can’t make any connection. Earlier this year, National Assembly speaker Diosdado Cabello denounced on his weekly TV show that another narco-novela, “El Señor de los Cielos”, had attacked him by putting a character named General Diosdado Carreño Arias (played by Venezuelan actor Franklin Virguez). Really subtle, those writers.

We can expect more of the same from CONATEL, we’re talking about an agency that once opened an investigation against a TV show that wasn’t ever shown in Venezuela, or planned to be shown in Venezuela, or intended to be shown in Venezuela, just because it used Nicolas Maduro and the PSUV instead of a generic villain.

But even if narco-novelas are banned from the airwaves, they can be found easily in any bootleg store. That battle is already lost.