Conatel Hits Back Over Televen’s Constituyente Coverage

The second largest private TV channel in Venezuela just got fined for its news coverage by CONATEL. What does this ruling mean for non-hegemony local media as the 22-A election looms?

Almost seven months ago, Nicolás Maduro publicly berated private TV channels Venevisión and Televen for their “lack of coverage” on the Constituyente election.

It took its sweet time, but CONATEL finally delivered punishment last week: The Social Responsibility Directorate (DRS) imposed an “administrative sanctionatory procedure” against Televen.

The broadcasting authority charged Televen with violating Article 27 of the RESORTEME Law, by “broadcasting messages with graphic images of real violence during the ANC election.”

Last Monday, the channel offered its response in the midday edition of El Noticiero, with a brief statement (0:39 to 1:39 of the video). Here’s the summary:

  1. Televen was charged with paying a fine of Bs. 78 million;
  2. The alleged violations included “illicit statements” by Caracas Archbishop Jorge Urosa Sabino and then National Assembly Speaker Julio Borges, along with the coverage of events made by the channel’s reporters;
  3. The channel’s board disagrees with CONATEL’s decision but accepts it.
  4. Televen paid the fine, but reserves the right to appeal.

Caracas Chronicles unsuccessfully made attempts to have a broader reaction.

The fact that Televen isn’t complaining much for this sanction is a stark contrast with the 2011 case of Globovisión, fined for their coverage of events at El Rodeo Prison. Two years later, the channel changed ownership, after years of humongous official pressure.

Televen’s five-year broadcasting license expires this year, when it’s supposed to celebrate its 30th anniversary. Back in 2013, the renewal came up at the last minute and rumors ran about pressures to change their programming.

And even after the license issues were solved, Maduro attacked Televen in 2014 for promoting “anti-values”, ordering the Communication Minister at the time (Jacqueline Faria) to meet with the channel’s heads. The hegemony has pressured Televen by forcing them to drop The Simpsons and the local version of date show “12 Corazones”. They also had complaints about the news magazine  “100% Venezuela”.

Back in 2013, the renewal came up at the last minute and rumors ran about pressures to change their programming.

The government still has a good presence in the channel, thanks to “José Vicente Hoy”, hosted by former Vice-President José Vicente Rangel. State officials along with high-profile chavistas and some political “outliers” are regular guests on the Sunday morning program.  

So, two main questions come to mind after CONATEL’s decision:

First, why now? Given the lack of enthusiasm for the ANC election, the government doesn’t want the same story on April 22th. They want this one to seem like a normal and competitive election, to undermine the looming international backlash. The hegemony also wants to send a message: the coverage will be as I say, period.

The second question is, why wasn’t Venevisión sanctioned as well?

A lot has been said over the years about the particular relationship between the government and Venevisión, since the 2004 Carter-Chávez-Cisneros summit. There’s always the slight chance that CONATEL could rule against them as well but, honestly, I don’t see it happening now.

As a French mouse once said: The only predictable thing about life is its unpredictability.”