CARACAS, Venezuela – President Hugo Chavez's government is imposing new regulations on cable television while revoking the licenses of more than 200 radio stations, the top telecommunications official said Thursday.
The new regulations will soon require cable TV companies that use largely locally-produced content to comply with Venezuelan laws governing broadcasters, said Diosdado Cabello, who heads the telecommunications agency.
He said in a speech to the National Assembly that cable channels with at least 70 percent of their content produced in Venezuela would begin to be regulated by local broadcast laws, which include a measure requiring all broadcasters to carry Chavez's speeches when the president deems appropriate.
Cabello said the government also will no longer allow radio networks with more than three stations — a change that could force the breakup of various nationwide radio networks.
The moves come amid tensions over the government's previous announcement that it will revoke the licenses of 240 radio stations, and over multiple investigations into opposition-aligned television station Globovision that could lead to its closure.
Cabello, who is also Chavez's public works minister, said during a speech to the National Assembly that the new rules affecting cable television would take effect Friday following their publication in the Official Gazette.
The changes would affect Venezuelan-produced cable channels such as Radio Caracas Television, which moved to cable and satellite in 2007 after Chavez refused to renew its broadcast license.
Until now, cable and satellite channels have not been required to carry Chavez's speeches when the president takes over the airwaves in a so-called "national network" — and polls say that has helped boost such channels' audience among Venezuelans who prefer not to listen.
Cabello also warned that the government could "intervene" in cable television providers it accuses of interfering with the signals of the state TV channel Venezolana de Television and Caracas-based Telesur, a region-wide network funded by Venezuela and his allies.
"If it persists... that the volume of Telesur goes, that the signal of Venezolana de Television is interfered with, the government ... is going to intervene in those companies so that those channels' signals are never again lost," Cabello said. He did not elaborate on details of what had triggered his warning.
Evelyn Gonzalez, who leads the Venezuelan business chamber comprised of cable television companies, attributed the signal troubles to technical glitches but said "this can't be attributed to it being sabotage or anything like that." She declined to comment on the new regulations.
Cabello defended the decision to revoke the licenses of 240 radio stations — nearly 40 percent of the country's stations — because they didn't update their registration information with the National Telecommunications Commission. He also said "networks of more than three stations will not be permitted" — a change that could be a blow to at least six large, nationwide radio networks.
The government last month began a process of updating the registrations of TV and radio stations under a law regulating broadcasters, and demanded all outlets to turn in information including details on assets and ownership.
Venezuela's Radio Chamber called the move an "attack" on freedom of expression and "a direct violation of our Constitution."
Cabello said the decision is legal and the socialist government has no plans to discuss how the airwaves are divvied up with the radio chamber. "We'll go directly to the people to see the needs of the different communities," he said.