On May 19th, 2020, the subscription television service provider DirecTV (owned by the U.S. company AT&T) announced that it would cease operations in Venezuela as a result of its inability to comply with Venezuelan telecommunications regulations, all in light of the sanctions decreed by the U.S. government. This means restricting the information and entertainment options of some 13 million people, especially from popular and marginal backgrounds, and leaving more than 600 people unemployed while affecting more than 2,500 media workers.
The cessation of operations of DirecTV in Venezuela takes place in an absolutely hostile environment for the media and providers of subscription television services, who are completely strangled by the legal framework regulating information activity in Venezuela. The de facto regime has deployed since its inception a policy restricting the right to free communication and information, at the hands of the National Telecommunications Commission (CONATEL), which to date has closed more than 200 media outlets for political reasons and has intensified the information siege in Venezuela, ordering the blockade of countless international television channels, including NTN24, CNN en Español, Caracol TV, Antena 3 and RCN Colombia.
These restrictive policies have been beneficial to the de facto regime, since they have limited the supply of international channels in the communication market, destroying pluralism and strengthening instead a communication monopoly that transmits only what the regime allows. However, as noted in the previous paragraph, this problem did not originate with the sanctions imposed by the United States. The exile of the cable channels dates back to 2002, when the Chavez government censored CNN and Noticias Caracol. Later, in 2004, the Law on Social Responsibility in Radio, Television and Electronic Media, known as the “Ley Resorte” (Spring Law), extended the scope of CONATEL’s interference on subscription channels, which resulted in the closure of RCTV and RCTV International.
In this regard, it should be recalled that according to Article 11 of the Ley Resorte, providers of subscription television services “must guarantee users free access to television services determined by the State, within the scope of their coverage, whether these are national or internationally produced, in which the State has an interest or participation. In other words, existing regulations oblige subscription television services to transmit the State’s channels, under penalty of not being able to operate in Venezuela if they refuse to do so.
In the opinion of this Commission, such a requirement has no basis in the light of a democratic state based on the rule of law that advocates economic freedom, and in practice, it has only served the interests of control and intervention in the private sector by the regime, causing in this case, the cessation of operations of DirecTV in Venezuela and with it, a notable decrease in access to information and entertainment for at least 13 million Venezuelans who subscribe to that cable television operator. This situation is especially worrying for those who, for geographical or economic reasons, have no other option for information and entertainment other than the television service that was cut off.
Finally, this Commissioner cannot fail to express his resounding rejection of the ruling by the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice of the de facto regime that orders the take over, with support of public force, of all the movable and immovable assets of DirecTV in Venezuela in order to reactivate the company’s operations. Not only does this lack any logical and legal basis, but it also (i) curtails the right to property and the economic freedoms enshrined in our Constitution since, in practice, it is an arbitrary judicial expropriation in complete disregard of the legal procedures provided for that purpose; (ii) and is an inappropriate and unnecessary measure, insofar as the resumption of DirecTV’s service depends exclusively on a business decision and not on the mere possession of the transmission equipment. Such a measure, in the long term, makes any amicable agreement with the American company AT&T for the purpose of restoring the service completely impossible.
Taking into account the above-mentioned considerations, the Presidential Commissioner for Human Rights and Victims Care respectfully requests the National Assembly and international protection bodies, especially the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, which, according to their competency, are responsible for the protection of human rights:
1. To make a statement on the facts denounced and, above all, on anything that may occur in the same context in the future;
2. Evaluate the compatibility of the Ley Resorte with international human rights standards regarding freedom of expression, information and economic freedom;
3. Consider the possibility of activating the constitutionally established mechanisms to review and, if appropriate, repeal in whole or in part the provisions contained in the Ley Resorte;
4. Urge the legitimate authorities and even those with de facto power to prevent, impede and guarantee the non-repetition of practices equal or similar to those carried out to date against the media and the right of Venezuelans to access free and pluralistic information.