Configuration of television regulatory authorities in the Andean Countries
Abel Suing [CV] [ ORCID] [ GS] Research Professor. Department of Communication Sciences. Universidad Técnica Particular de Loja (UTPL), Ecuador - firstname.lastname@example.org
Translation by CA Martínez-Arcos (PhD in Communication from the University of London)
Between 2005 and 2015 many Latin American Governments amended their legislation on communications to institutionalise a system of checks and balances that generate trust between public, private and community actors. The changes that have taken place demonstrate the importance of the media in the promotion of democracy and their contribution to the coexistence of different currents of thought in society (Carniel and Sábes, 2014: 274).
In the recent history of Latin America, the media have proved to be close to the political powers (Lagos and Uganda, 2011: 89) but also to be “poorly regulated, in comparison to their European and American counterparts” (Becerra, 2014: 63). Today, the media face “a whirlwind of transformations, and for the moment they have not found innovative responses for the new challenges” (Becerra, 2014: 74).
The implementation of regulatory mechanisms is justified, as they aim to limit the influence of the economic and political powers in the work of the media, which has as immediate consequence the consolidation of democratic systems, which is in turn an objective recognised and supported by supranational initiatives (Carniel and Sábes, 2014: 274). However, although all Latin American countries “already have regulation on mass media” (Gómez, 2013: 43), these regulations are not always enforced.
The authorities in charge of regulating communications and the audiovisual sector have an important history in Europe but not in Latin America, where their implementation is generally based on arguments about the impact of the media in contemporary society (Carniel, 2009: 21). “The broadcasting of audiovisual content affects various fundamental rights recognised by the constitutions of the traditional democracies and, at the same time, impacts the varying and sometimes contradictory interests of the multiple protagonists of the audiovisual communication industry” (Pavani, 2014: 371).
Communication rights constitute the frame of reference in the field of regulation in democracy, which also advocates for information to become a public good that needs to be protected and promoted (Lagos and Uganda, 2011: 100; Checa, 2013: 14). Thus, the democratisation of the media would involve “focusing on criteria of responsibility in the production and broadcast of audiovisual messages and on the respect of the legally recognised rights” (Carniel, 2009: 29).
In a democracy, “political actors have it clear: they need the media to disseminate information and receive feedback; in other words, to build relations [...] with the citizenry” (Lagos and Uganda, 2011: 92) and this should never involve the use of political power over the media. This condition reaffirms the importance of the creation of policies and institutions that ensure a democratic balance. Independent authorities overseeing television and the audiovisual sector cultivate “democratic values” as long as liberal democracy does it too (Botella, 2006: 3). “An audiovisual council always contributes to the improvement of the possible imperfections of the media and the democratic system” (Palomar, 2008: 124), even more so when they follow international standards to achieve the full exercise of human rights (Gómez, 2013: 40; several authors, 2015).
Communication rights involve the consideration of freedom of expression and information and a modality of freedom of entrepreneurship, “so that the principles and instruments of the regulation of the market and of public communication are often mixed” (Barata, 2007). Freedom of expression “protects, on the one hand, the right to found or use the media to exercise freedom of expression and, on the other hand, the right of society to have free, independent and plural media” (Gómez, 2013: 49).
Freedom of expression is regarded as a right without which it is impossible to exercise other equally important human rights (Gómez, 2013: 30; Lagos and Uganda, 2011: 100), but “it is not an absolute right and, as such, it admits regulations and restrictions” as stated by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (Gómez, 2013: 31). In other words, even under the argument of freedom of expression the establishment of a regulatory authority is pertinent. “The guarantee of freedom of communication is the maximum exponent of the penetration of these authorities in the guaranteeing of rights” (Palomar, 2008: 122).
The constitutions that have been amended in the last decade in Latin American countries express their “will to change with respect to previous governments, and all of them, although to a greater extent the Ecuadorian one, describe the communication rights of citizens as an extension of the basic right of freedom of expression” (Jorge, Frutos and Galarza, 2015). Modern public information and communication “play fundamental roles in the configuration of the common space of deliberation and political representation. Thus, it is common to recognise that without access to communication and information, freedom of expression and other social rights tend to be violated” (Sierra, 2013: 89).
Plurality on the public stage is another goal pursued by the creation of independent audiovisual authorities, and is the “basis of free public opinion, which is, in fact, a constitutional requirement” (Palomar, 2008: 122). Plurality with a universal character is fundamental for the exercise of the rights of users of audiovisual services (García, 2010: 8), is an “essential conditionforcompliancewith the freedoms ofexpression, information and communication [... and…] a key factor for strengthening democracy” (Carniel and Sábes, 2014: 277). The type of pluralism that is of interest in the field of television “is not reached automatically through the multiplication of channels, but through the provision of a variety of contents and the guarantee that media concentration will be prevented” (Pavani, 2014: 373).
The history of regulation on communication is related to natural, legal and administrative aspects: the radio spectrum (Ariño, 2008), the correction of market failures and social balances through the intervention of public monopolies to prevent any economic inefficiency that harms consumers (Culebro and González, 2013: 53; Hazlett, 2004: 235).
The previous characteristics are consistent with the set of Media Development Indicators established by UNESCO (2008: 14):
In order to reach this configuration, UNESCO proposes the following indicators that enable measuring the independence of the regulatory system:
The means suggested for the verification of the application of the indicators are:
The proposed indicators and means of verification constitute international standards that capitalise the experience of the existing regulatory bodies. Nonetheless we should reconsider the suitability of these models given the impact of technological developments such as digital television and television over the Internet (Botella, 2007).
Apart from the digital process, the elements of independence, the power to impose sanctions and the selection of members are the most outstanding powers possessed by the regulatory authorities. Independent bodies in charge of the regulation of audiovisual media “have become widespread in all European countries, [...] and, more modestly, in Latin America and Asia” (Botella, 2006: 1), “and it can be argued that they constitute a trend in democratic countries” (Carniel, 2009: 2). In order for the established administrative and legal mechanisms to reach their goals, “the responsible authority must be endowed with a high degree of autonomy from the political and economic powers [...] The central premise is to clearly set out the separation between the actors operating in the sector and those with the power to regulate” (Carniel, 2010: 45). More than one study has concluded that citizens, the media and governments prefer independent authorities (Barata, 2007; Botella, 2006: 3; Pavani, 2014: 367).
Scholars have shown that “all the regulatory bodies in the audiovisual field have the power to impose sanctions, which is required for the effective performance of their functions (Carniel, 2011: 60). The European (and American) experience is unanimous: regulatory bodies are administrative bodies, “and, as such, should have power to impose sanctions” (Botella, 2006: 2).
With regards to the members of the regulatory bodies, some formulas have been tested, such as proportional appointments by the Presidency of the Republic, the Presidency of the National Assembly or by Parliament, by large majorities and with additional requirements (Botella, 2006: 3). However, and even if the quotas are balanced, the challenge is to appoint the right professionals (Bourdon 2006).
When we talk about convergence, we should understand it as “the integration of communication networks and communication services, of infrastructure and audiovisual contents” (Pavani, 2014: 372). “The debate on the regulatory convergence between the audiovisual and telecommunications sectors is a reality in the European Union” (García, 2010: 6). However, although statistics show that traditional television is still the medium people uses the most to obtain information, “the percentage of IPTV (Internet Protocol Television) is growing each year” (Pavani, 2014: 366).
Convergence would require extending the object of analysis: “Today, mass information and entertainment are not only produced and distributed by the mass media [...], but also, and increasingly, by telephony networks and Internet service providers” (Becerra, 2014: 65). The previous and the fact that the Internet is currently the preferred platform through which an increasing number of people consumes audiovisual content has made many scholars to wonder “what should we regulate and why?” (Ariño, 2008)
The purpose of this research is to determine the adequacy of the television regulatory authorities in Andean countries according to the international standards set out by UNESCO, within the framework of the Media Development Indicators. Television regulators in the Andean region are young in comparison to their European or American counterparts, and emerged in the middle of a political transition towards the predominance of laws that promote civil rights.
The objectives of this research study are:
The hypotheses that guide the previous objectives are the following:
The study is based on the qualitative content analysis of the legal regulations, constitutions, and the resolutions of the television regulators of the Andean states. The legislative database hosted by the Latin American Observatory of Regulation, Media and Competition (Observacom, 2016) was the main source to obtain the legal regulations on television in the Andean region.
In addition to the legal bodies, data was obtained from the websites of the selected regulators (the final month set for information retrieval was February 2016). For the analysis of the resolutions, we considered the resolutions published during the last year of administrative exercise. The variables selected for analysis are: regulator-creation laws, regulatory authority types, financial autonomy, purposes, functions, composition and resolutions
All the regulatory authorities were created by law (table 1). Peru’s Radio and Television Advisory Council is the oldest regulator while Ecuador’s CORDICOM is the youngest: it was created in 2013 by an organic law that set out its fundamental rights. The regulators of Colombia and Peru refer specifically to television in their names, while the name of Ecuador’s television regulator is generic but encompasses information and communication. The name of Bolivia’s regulator covers telecommunications and transportation.
Based on their nature, the regulators of the Andean states are public institutions. In Bolivia and Peru the regulators are attached to ministries related to communication or telecommunications; while in Colombia and Ecuador the regulators have administrative autonomy.
Table 1. Description of television regulators in the Andean region
*BO: Bolivia; CO: Colombia; EC: Ecuador; PE: Peru.
The laws of creation of the regulatory authorities of Bolivia and Peru established the sources of funding (table 1) and the origin of the funds. Ecuador’s regulator is financed with allocations from the national government budget, but the amount of the allocated budget is not specified. Colombia’s television regulator does not have financial autonomy, as it depends on the income allocated to the Television Development Fund.
The functions of the television regulators in the Andean states (table 2), range from the promotion of good practices (Peru) and dialogue (Colombia) to regulation and control (Bolivia and Ecuador), which would correspond more to their essence as it promotes and executes communication policies related to the rights and freedoms of the public. In the case of Bolivia, the ATT regulates telecommunications and transport, and its functions with respect to television are not specified.
Table 2. Functions of television regulators in the Andean region
Source: Authors’ own creation based on data from: Gaceta oficial de Bolivia, 2009; Asamblea Legislativa Plurinacional, 2011; Congreso de Colombia, 2012; Registro Oficial del Gobierno de Ecuador, 2013; Congreso de la República del Perú, 2004; CONCORTV, 2016-a.
The functions of the television regulators (table 3) can be grouped into eight broad groups:
Administrative functions include compliance with the law and the creation of regulations, manuals and enforcement procedures, and to attend citations from Congress and public hearings. As for the radio spectrum, except in the case of Bolivia where the regulatory body oversees telecommunications, the regulators issue analyses prior to the granting of concessions, supervise the management of frequencies for television, and participate (through recommendations) in the oversight of public tenders to provide broadcasting services in an equitable manner.
Almost all regulatory authorities pay attention to the communication rights, in particular the Regulation Council of Ecuador. Communication rights are not mentioned among the functions of Bolivia’s regulatory authority, which include the establishment of mechanisms for the classification of TV content programming and time slots, the design and implementation of educational strategies for family audiences to develop a critical spirit, and the dissemination of the forms of communication of social, ethnic and cultural groups to guarantee information pluralism.
The power to impose sanctions is not included among the functions of all the regulatory authorities. The regulatory authorities of Ecuador and Peru do not have the power to impose sanctions; the Radio and Television Advisory Council of Peru may issue non-binding opinions in administrative proceedings. The regulatory authorities of Bolivia and Colombia have the power to impose sanctions to those who violate the norms that protect citizens’ rights.
The regulators in Bolivia, Colombia and Peru perform international representation and liaison functions with industry associations to coordinate policies and operation standards. The television regulator in Ecuador does not perform this type functions. In relation to public television, only Colombia’s television regulator has competence in this area.
Market-related elements such as the promotion of the television industry, the development of communication technology and market competition are included among the functions of the regulatory authorities of Bolivia and Colombia, while academic research functions are listed as commitments of the regulatory authorities of Ecuador and Peru.
Table 3. Functions of television regulators in the Andean region
**B: Bolivia; C: Colombia; E: Ecuador; P: Peru.
Television regulators in the Andean region are organised in different ways. For example, Bolivia’s Authority for the Regulation and Control of Telecommunications and Transport (ATT) has three levels of organisation:
The Council is an institution of social participation and is responsible for designing, proposing and evaluating policies, exercising social control over the management of the Executive Director of the ATT. The Council shall be composed of the Minister of Public Works, Services and Housing or its representative, in the role of President of the Council; the Deputy Minister of Telecommunications; the Deputy Minister of Transport, and two representatives of social or user organisations. The representative of the Minister shall be appointed by ministerial resolution. Representatives of social or user organisations will be appointed according to the rules established by the Ministry head of sector.
Colombia’s National Television Authority is composed of:
The requirements to become a member of National Television Authority are:
Ecuador’s Information and Communication Regulation and Development Council (CORDICOM) is composed of:
The members of the CORDICOM shall meet the following requirements:
Peru’s Radio and Television Advisory Council (CONCORTV) is composed of:
The members of the Radio and Television Advisory Council must have moral fitness, outstanding career and professional experience of at less ten years.
Regulators are composed of representatives of the national and local governments appointed by the ministries or directly by the President of the Republic, representatives of social organisations, the academia, the media, and associations of journalists. Election is by appointment or nomination but not all regulators set out the requirements for candidates.
With regards to references to the television regulators in the constitutions of the Andean states, the study indicates that this only happens in the case of Colombia’s National Television Authority, which is mentioned in article 77 of Colombia’s constitution, which states that:
Finally, and in accordance with the objectives of the research, the following table presents the resolutions adopted by television regulators of the Andean states in the last year, and published on their respective websites. In Ecuador the Information and Communication Regulation and Development Council (CORDICOM) has no competence to issue resolutions. According to article 55 of Ecuador’s Organic Law on Communication, regarding the institutional framework for the regulation and control, the Information and Communication Superintendence is “the technical agency for monitoring, audit, intervention and control, with sanctioning power [...] and broad powers to enforce the regulation on information and communication” (Registro Oficial del Gobierno de Ecuador, 2013). For the purpose of comparison, the following table includes the resolutions of the Superintendence.
Table 4. Resolutions of television regulators in the Andean region
Source: Authors’ own creation based on data published in the websites of the television regulators of the Andean states.
4. Discussion and conclusions
Television regulators in the Andean states are created by laws that establish their nature, financial autonomy, purpose, functions and composition. They are public institutions but not all them have administrative and financial independence. Since they are legally supported by organic laws, they promote respect for fundamental rights, whose protection is one of the objectives of the debate and creation of regulatory bodies. The legal framework allows regulatory bodies in Andean countries to promote and ensure citizens’ exercise of their rights and the free expression of their views in democratic societies.
Although not all television regulators in the Andean region enjoy administrative and financial autonomy, their laws of creation establish that their purpose, their raison d’etre, is the regulation and control of television. Even in the case of Bolivia, there is no full disengagement from this area because it maintains a relation with telecommunications activities. This context denotes the value of television and its impact on the democratisation of communication.
The functions of the regulators are many, but coincide on eight aspects that encompass administrative elements, the supervision of the radio spectrum, the right to communication, sanctions, international relations, public television, industry and academic research. The regulators aim to cover from the constituent elements of the relationship among citizens to the evaluation of the impacts of new forms of communication. Together, the television regulators in the Andean region perform a total of 34 functions, of which 13 are performed by Colombia’s National Television Authority, which is the regulator that carries out the largest number of functions related to television and the protection of viewers.
The functions of the regulators have as common factors, just like the purposes, the communication rights and the freedoms of expression and information, and thus aim to provide the conditions necessary for people to exercise these rights in a market economy as citizens and economic agents.
The first research hypothesis, which proposes that “television regulators in the Andean region have been created by relevant laws that establish their roles, composition and financing”, has been confirmed, as reflected by the information presented in tables 1, 2 and 3.
According to their composition, the regulatory authorities are related to the executive branch of their governments and although there is an organism that can review and appeal the appointment of the members, there will always be the risk of influence from the political groups in power. The regulation councils of Colombia, Ecuador and Peru include representatives of the academia and civil society, but with the exception of the case of Colombia, there are no forms to guarantee the appointed members are qualified to perform their duties or to include the opinion of professional bodies free from political or economic influences, despite this is necessary to achieve greater plurality and depth in the resolutions.
With regards to the constitutional support received by the television regulators of the Andean region, it is important to notice that only the Political Constitution of Colombia, in its article 77, makes reference to the National Television Authority, to establish that it is an autonomous national entity, subject to its own legal regime. Therefore, the second research hypothesis, which states that “the creation television regulators in the Andean region have the pertinent constitutional support regarding the independence of regulatory bodies”, has not been confirmed.
Finally, after examining the resolutions adopted by the regulators determined in the past year, we can point out that the regulatory authorities have focused on the regulation of administrative aspects. In fact, there have been few resolutions related to the protection and promotion of communication rights. Regulators in Ecuador and Peru have considered the rights of citizens in regards to access to digital terrestrial television and contents targeting children and adolescents. Also striking is the lack of updating of the resolutions sections in the websites of the regulators of Peru and Colombia.
Based on the analysis of the resolutions of the regulators in the Andean region, it can be concluded that there is no sufficient evidence to ensure these authorities will promote justice, freedom of expression, public service programming and accessibility for the general public, with rejects the third hypothesis. It is also important to note that in order to have a more precise criteria, it is necessary to study in depth the background and justification of each resolution, which will be a future line of research for the study.
In correspondence to the standards set by UNESCO, the regulatory authorities of the Andean region must develop more rules and regulations that, altogether, guarantee the independence of the regulatory system. Despite there is no evidence to demonstrate commercial or partisan interference in the resolutions adopted by regulators, the Constitutions of the Andean states do not include legal elements that promote and guarantee the proper composition and full independence of television regulators.
There is also necessary to improve the conditions that ensure that the members of the regulatory authorities are elected through transparent and democratic processes designed to minimise the risk of partisan or commercial interference. In terms of financial autonomy, the legislation generally guarantees the adequate and consistent funding for the regulators, but does not explicitly identify the sources of funding.
There is still room for improvement, but there are favourable conditions for television regulators of the Andean region to promote and guarantee communication rights which would lead to higher levels of democracy in each country.
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How to cite this article in bibliographies / References
A Suing, C Ortiz, V González (2016): “Configuration of television regulatory authorities in the Andean Countries”. Revista Latina de Comunicación Social, 71, pp. 730 to 749.
Article received on 15 July 2016. Accepted on 20 July.