The IACHR’s Commissioner for Venezuelan Affairs, Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro, and Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression, Catalina Botero, expressed their emphatic rejection of the closing of cable television channels in Venezuela and requested that the guarantees of freedom of expression and due process be reestablished.
On January 23, 2010, Diosdado Cabello, Conatel director and Minister of Public Works and Housing, publicly urged companies that provide cable and satellite television subscription services to immediately remove from their programming lineups any television channels not in compliance with the Law of Television and Radio Social Responsibility. According to the Minister, the opinion of the service operator or of the government is sufficient for determining whether a channel is in violation of the law. He also warned that if the cable operators did not cease broadcasting the channels, "It will be they and not the channels who will be subject to an administrative procedure." At zero hour on January 24, 2010, at least six cable channels were taken off the air. RCTV Internacional and TV Chile were among them.
The decision to take a cable channel off the air for alleged non-compliance with the Law of Television and Radio Social Responsibility means, for all intents and purposes, the closure of a channel for not complying with this law. This decision therefore has enormous repercussions when it comes to freedom of expression, and as such must comply with all the guarantees consecrated in law, in the Venezuelan Constitution and in the international treaties to which the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela is a party. In particular, in order for the closing of a media outlet to be legitimate, it is necessary that prior to the exhaustion of due process, an independent and impartial state body verify that the media outlet committed an offense clearly established by law and that the agency charged with enforcing the law adequately and sufficiently justifies the decision. These minimum guarantees of due process cannot be sidestepped on the pretext that the media outlet in question is a cable channel.
In this case, the channels that were so suddenly taken off the air did not have an opportunity to defend themselves during a due process before an impartial authority. These channels were punished summarily, without due process and without justification under Venezuelan law. With this decision, the right to freedom of expression in Venezuela is further eroded, as it blocks cable media outlets from operating independently and without fear of being silenced on account of the focus of their reporting or their editorial stance.
The IACHR’s Commissioner for Venezuelan Affairs and Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression expressed their serious concern over these facts and urged the Venezuelan authorities to comply with the applicable legal provisions, in particular with the minimum guarantees of due process to which all the inhabitants of the Americas have a right. Commissioner Pinheiro and Special Rapporteur Botero reminded the Venezuelan authorities that the existence of free, independent, vigorous, plural, and diverse media is an indispensable condition for the proper functioning of a democratic society. Likewise, they noted that it is the State’s duty to foster conditions under which democratic, plural, and uninhibited debate can exist. It is therefore necessary to reestablish the guarantee that the media may operate freely.