Venezuela restricts online content
Media regulations extended to Web
CARACAS — Venezuelan lawmakers imposed broadcast-type regulations yesterday on the Internet, barring some types of online messages under measures that opponents say are a threat to freedom of speech.
President Hugo Chávez’s allies in the National Assembly approved the revised “Social Responsibility Law,’’ which extends rules for broadcast media to the Internet.
The law prohibits messages and images that “disrespect public authorities,’’ “incite or promote hatred’’ or crimes, or could create “anxiety in the citizenry or alter public order.’’
It also says electronic media must establish procedures to “allow the restricting, without delay’’ of content deemed objectionable. Violators may be punished with fines.
Chávez opponents and press freedom groups have strongly criticized the law, saying it is another in a line of legal changes that they fear could be used to clamp down on freedoms. Questions remain about how the measures will be enforced.
Chávez defended the law Sunday. “We aren’t eliminating the Internet here . . . nor censoring the Internet,’’ he said. “What we’re doing is protecting ourselves against crimes, cybercrimes.’’
As examples, Chávez mentioned messages promoting drug use, prostitution, and other crimes, and said his government has an obligation to take a stand.
Pro-Chávez lawmaker Mario Isea said the law will not restrict the use of the Internet.
But opposition lawmaker Pastora Medina argued it is intended to “restrict, censor,’’ and also promote self-censorship.
The Venezuelan Electronic Commerce Chamber condemned the measures in a recent statement, saying they aim to clear the way for “censorship and blocking of websites.’’
The regulations are broad and will therefore be complicated to apply, said Frank De Prada, editor of the Venezuelan news website Noticias 24.
He said Noticias 24 has started manually reviewing postings by readers instead of using an automatic filter, in order to keep a closer watch on content submitted by others.
De Prada said he also disagrees with one provision of the law that allows for authorities to punish owners or administrators of websites for messages posted by users.
The law is one of multiple controversial measures taken up by the National Assembly in its final weeks before a new legislature takes office in January with a larger opposition contingent capable of hindering some types of major laws.
Venezuelan authorities already have prosecuted some people for remarks made online, in some cases alarming free-speech advocates.
A man was arrested in September after authorities said he used Twitter to call for Chávez’s assassination. Jesus Majano was arraigned and then freed pending additional hearings.
In July, prosecutors accused two people of spreading false rumors about the country’s banking system on Twitter. The attorney general’s office said the two were detained and then freed, also pending additional hearings.