Skip to comments.Chavez Picks Ally Pushing Broadcasting Law as Venezuela Information Minister
Posted on 07/07/2003 1:33:55 AM PDT by Cincinatus' Wife
CARACAS, Venezuela (Reuters) Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has named as his information minister a former military colleague who is proposing a television and radio broadcasting law that critics say will threaten press freedom.
"Jesse Chacon will be sworn in, probably tomorrow, as minister of communication and information," a government official, who asked not to be named, told Reuters on Wednesday.
Chacon, a computer systems engineer and retired army lieutenant, took part with Chavez in a 1992 botched coup. Chavez won the 1998 presidential election, and Chacon was named two years ago to head the state telecommunications regulatory agency CONATEL.
As chief of CONATEL, which is responsible for monitoring television and radio broadcasting in Venezuela, Chacon is one of the architects of a proposed law that would prohibit broadcasting of sex and violence during most of the day and evening in order to protect children.
The proposed bill also forbids broadcasting events and statements that "incite disruption of public order."
Opponents of the populist president say the Radio and Television Social Responsibility law before parliament is an attempt to muzzle criticism of the government by private media controlled by the opposition.
Broadcasters who repeatedly broke these rules would face large fines or could have their licenses taken away.
New York-based Human Rights Watch urged Chavez Tuesday to withdraw the broadcasting bill, saying that, if passed, it would have a "chilling effect on free expression."
Chavez and other officials have defended it, saying the government needs to counter what they call a campaign of "media terrorism" being waged by the opposition.
Chacon replaces Nora Uribe, a journalist who resigned as Chavez's information minister after technical problems disrupted a live presidential broadcast June 24. Uribe had served nearly a year in the newly created post.
Under a recent pact brokered by the Organization of American States, Venezuela's opposition may seek a referendum later this year on Chavez's mandate, which runs to 2007. The deal was part of efforts to end chronic unrest destabilizing this key oil supplier to the United States.
The accord urged the National Assembly to quickly appoint the elections council to organize the vote and committed the government to provide funding. But on Thursday, Chavez supporters_ who control just more than half of the National Assembly's 165 seats - didn't attend a congressional session to discuss the council appointments. Acting assembly president Ricardo Gutierrez said no debate can be held until 29 lawmakers from both sides return from a trip to the United States.
Cesar Perez, a member of the Copei Social Christian opposition party, accused the ruling party of trying to delay the process.
Opposition lawmakers long predicted Chavez's downfall at the ballot box next month, or halfway into Chavez's six-year term. Yet several opposition parties can't agree on the first step - choosing an elections council - and time is running out for a vote in 2003.
"Without continued pressure from the international community and greater unity and strategy within the opposition, it isn't going to happen (this year)," said Michael Shifter, an analyst with the Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank.
Opponents accuse Chavez, a former paratrooper who was elected in 1998 and re-elected in 2000, of ruining Venezuela's economy, fomenting political violence and ignoring widespread corruption. Chavez - who survived a brief 2002 coup and a general strike this year - says a disenfranchised elite is committed to toppling him and his revolution for Venezuela's majority poor. [End]