Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Hoist with his own petard

In a normal country, this would be an example of someone shooting themselves in the foot. Article 29.1 of Venezuela's new media gag law states:
Los prestadores de servicios de radio y televisión serán sancionados con
1. Suspensión hasta por setenta y dos horas continuas, cuando los mensajes difundidos [...] promuevan, hagan apología o inciten a alteraciones del orden público [...].
2. Revocatoria de la habilitación, hasta por cinco años y revocatoria de la concesión, cuando haya reincidencia en la sanción del numeral 1 de este artículo, dentro de los cinco años siguientes de haber ocurrido la primera sanción.
In other words, any radio or TV broadcasters found to be spreading messages promoting, justifying or inciting to changes of the public order can be taken off the air for 72 hours, or for five years upon being found guilty of the same offence within five years.

This makes me wonder: what is the single word that most clearly describes a "change of the public order"? Let me tell you: it's revolution! In a normal society where the rule of law prevails and the judiciary is independent, what I would be looking for now is a state TV or radio broadcaster being taken off the air for transmitting one of President Chávez's interminable speeches in which he sings the glories of the Bolivarian revolution, asking for it to be strengthened, praised, exalted, sped up, sanctified, and so on.

Unfortunately, that is unlikely to happen in Venezuela. But it does highlight the ludicrousness of the Venezuelan situation, where the government pretends that it is running a normal state in which everybody has equal access to the law, but where laws are effectively made and interpreted to benefit those in power. The article quoted above is a perfect example: it is formulated so vaguely that it can be applied to any broadcaster that falls out of favour with the government. It is what would be called a "Gummiparagraph" in German, a legal article made of rubber.

In the new year, expect the gag law to be applied at least once to scare the other stations into self-censorship. If they aren't cowed, the law can still be liberally applied as the revolution sees fit. Let us hope the media will at least get some support from the political opposition and that there is some resistance from the population.

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