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The Challenge of Rethinking Telecommunications Legislation

Paraguay clearly faces major challenges for the democratization of communications, from updating current legislation to reflect the present situation and the realities of the various services, to understanding the fact that it forms part of a region with countries that have taken important steps in this area. As such, it is faced with the commitment to make progress with a political, social and legal vision that is more open, pluralist and diverse in regard to the media… 

Alicia Stumpfs*/ Paraguay/ August 2014

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The communications system of Paraguay with Horacio Cartes as President of the Republic along with the Partido Colorado, has not yet presented structural changes to the configuration of the ownership of the media. Based on general estimates outlined in the book Comunicación y Democracia by sociologist Diego Segovia, one can say that over 90% of the information and entertainment that circulates in the country on a daily basis is controlled by seven large business groups. However,  a reform of the Telecommunications Law is on the horizon, and will be implemented by the Executive Branch based on an initiative promoted by the regulatory entity CONATEL (the National Telecommunications Commission).

This reform initiative has benefited from the advice provided by a team of consultants that is currently engaged in the analysis and research of Law 642 on Telecommunications, which has been in force since 1995. As part of this project, they will review aspects such as the classification of services, the handling of universal funds,the licensing conditions for provision of services, and the management of the radio-electronic spectrum. The proposal for the law is for it to be brought to Parliament by the end of this year, although there are limited expectations that it will focus on rights based on standards of freedom of expression.

In addition, in the Legislative Branch, specifically the Chamber of Deputies, a proposal to modify that same law developed during the previous period by Deputies David Ocampos and Fernando Oregioni of Partido UNACE and Partido Liberal (both representing the Paraguayan right) remains in the in-boxes of the various Advisory Commissions. No progress on this bill is anticipated.

The Avanza País coalition (1) is developing a work plan on public policies on communication through congresswomen Rocío Casco and Karina Rodríguez. This generated the request for reports by the Chamber of Deputies to CONATEL regarding the current situation of closures and confiscations of community radio broadcasters. In addition, this agenda includes public hearings with community radio organizations that will allow progress to be made on a participatory legislative bill that will reflect the main demands of the social sectors, which also includes the community sector, challenges of public broadcasting and universities.

As part of its campaign program, the Frente Guazú political group (2) proposed working on a new Media Law, which will be presented by its representatives with the possible support of other sectors that have representation in Parliament. Not a great deal is known about the contents of this initiative.

Current Context

At the same time, CONATEL and the Prosecutor’s Office have carried out a campaign of confiscations and closures of stations without authorization. Stations that truly are part of the community have been impacted by this process, and have been dismantled, intervened on and in some cases prosecuted despite their record of work and social legitimacy. In response to this, engineer Ricardo Canese, a Mercosur representative, presented a proposal so that Parlasur could make a statement against the attacks on freedom of expression and the press committed against community radio stations and alternative media outlets in Paraguay.

Given this situation, community and educational radio organizations such as VOCES Paraguay and the Network of Educational Radio Stations of Paraguay (REDEPAR) and social and rural organizations met with the President of CONATEL, economist Neri González. During this encounter, several of the sector’s historical demands were presented. These include respect for member stations, which have a history and organizational support and are awaiting an answer from CONATEL regarding their requests for authorization since the year 2000.

In addition, it was argued that there was a need to include a representative from community radio in the Radio Council established in Article 35 of Law 642, and to approve a specific set of regulations regarding community broadcasting that responds to the needs of the sector starting with the redefinition of the service. Other issues addressed were the inclusion of the topics proposed by the sector in the Telecommunications Law that is under study. Under the current law, community radio stations are classified as small- and medium-coverage broadcasters.

The commitment made by the President of the regulatory entity is to generate spaces for work in order to interact with community radio groups on authorizations for broadcasters by geographic area and to receive the proposal for the Telecommunications Law that is under study with the suggestions for the various issues presented by the community radio organizations.

The situation described suggests a series of questions. For example, will the reform introduce substantial changes for the configuration of the media in Paraguay? How will this affect the regulatory entity? What will happen with the assignment of universal funds? On the other hand, it is clear that there is an urgent need for an alliance or coalition of different social, cultural, university and political sectors that can effectively influence these key areas as well as others and open the way to public policies focused on promoting the right to communication.

Paraguay clearly faces major challenges for the democratization of communications, from updating current legislation to reflect the present situation and the realities of the various services, to understanding the fact that it forms part of a region with countries that have taken important steps in this area. As such, it is faced with the commitment to make progress with a political, social and legal vision that is more open, pluralist and diverse in regard to the media.

*Alicia Stumpfs, Assistant Coordinator of VOCES Paraguay and Director of Radio Candela.

 

Notes:
1. The coalition of progressive and leftist parties in Paraguay obtained seats for Deputies and Senators in the April 2013 elections.
2. The Coalition of Leftist Parties of Paraguay nominated former President Fernando Lugo to the Senate.
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