Venezuelan politicians have imposed broadcast-type regulations on the internet, barring some types of online messages under measures that opponents say are a threat to freedom of speech.
President Hugo Chavez’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. Those breaking the rules may be punished with fines, though questions remain about how enforcement will be carried out.
The body also gave final approval to a revised telecommunications law that declares radio and television airwaves to be “of public service and interest” and expands the executive branch’s power to control the sector.
The measure changes the duration of broadcast licences from 20 to 15 years and gives the government the power to pull the licence of any broadcaster that is found to have violated the law on more than one occasion.
That could threaten the licence of the country’s last stridently anti-Chavez television channel, Globovision, which has at least six such cases pending against it.
Chavez opponents and press freedom groups have strongly criticised the laws, saying they are more in a line of legal changes that they fear could be used to clamp down on freedoms.
Chavez defended the internet law on Sunday, saying it is intended to help protect citizens against online crimes.
“We aren’t eliminating the internet here … nor censoring the internet,” Chavez said. “What we’re doing is protecting ourselves against crimes, cybercrimes.”