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US Deeply Troubled by Venezuela Media Law

The State Department says U.S. officials are deeply troubled by new Venezuelan media rules signed into law Wednesday by President Hugo Chavez. The Chavez government says the law will produce more wholesome TV and radio programming, but critics say it will curb press freedom.

The United States had joined human rights groups in criticizing the new media law as it moved through the Venezuelan parliament, which narrowly approved it late last month.

The measure became law with President Chavez' signature on Wednesday.

At a news briefing, State Department Deputy Spokesman Adam Ereli said the United States is deeply troubled by the enactment of the law.

He said U.S. officials share the concerns of critics, including Human Rights Watch and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, about its implications.

"We certainly join these organizations in sharing these concerns," said Adam Ereli. "The law specifically imposes vague and unclear restrictions on media content, and allows the government regulatory agency to censor content it considers harmful to, quote, 'public order and national security.'"

The Chavez government framed the legislation as an effort to improve the quality of television and radio programming, and open up access to the media.

Among other things, it prohibits foul language and depictions during daylight hours of violence, sex and drug use.

But it also says news media cannot put out false information, or reports that threaten national security and public order, and provides penalties, including jail terms and the revocation of broadcast licenses.

Domestic critics say the real aim of the measure is to tame Venezuela's independent broadcasters, whom the government accuses of siding with opposition groups, who tried to force Mr. Chavez out of office through a referendum earlier this year.

A spokesman for Human Rights Watch says the law is excessively broad and imprecise, likening it to a strait-jacket on the Venezuelan media that can easily be tightened when necessary.

Spokesman Ereli said the Inter-American Human Rights Commission considers parts of the Venezuelan law to be incompatible with the human rights convention of the Organization of American States.

President Chavez said Tuesday the law will liberate the Venezuelan people from what he termed the dictatorship of the private media owners.