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In Latin America, cable also has social commitments

Cable television has interacted differently with civil society in each country in the region. Find out what that relationship was like in the late '90s.

In recent years, the teleafudience of the countries Latin Americans have seen a significant increase in their alternatives in television: public and private channels, national channels, regional, local and community; national and international television; free-to-air and subscription television. All these options have been possible due, especially, to technological development and the investment of large capitals.

Faced with this panorama, the states have seen the need to modify and update their schemes regarding the regulatory functions of a good public and democratic as is television.

Brazilian public

The most significant case of civil society participation in communication reforms is in Brazil, a country where a movement was created to defend the Brazilian public role in the development of policies for cable television. According to the analysis carried out by Patricia Aufderheide, in June 1991, the National Forum for the Democratization of Communication became a true representative of citizens, forming alliances that generated solid proposals, and in turn, gave them a position in the negotiations. This showed that there was a need to change the roles in policy-making for the television sector, and in particular for the cable television sector.

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Telebras and cable TV operators responded favorably. A strategy was adopted that strengthened institutional public spaces and their objectives in the face of political objectives and controls exercised by the State in which there was no possibility of intervention by the public sector. The creation of the National Communication Council and access to channels were promoted. This caused the Brazilian public to take a strong leadership position.

However, the process was always marked by a strong tendency to return to the past: the media owners maintained their power, the Ministry of Communications continued its old monopolistic practices, the Council failed to consolidate and access to the channels weakened.

Despite the final results that were regretted both by those who were leading the process and by society in general, the fact deserves to be highlighted, as it makes evident the need to change traditional politics by becoming aware of the important role that civil society can and should play in the regulations of a public good of this nature.

Development in Argentina

Another country that occupies a prominent place within this panorama is Argentina. A country that has a telecommunications infrastructure that, technologically, is considered one of the most advanced in the world. In addition, it has the most developed market in the region with a coverage of about 80% of households.

According to the opinions of researchers on the subject, cable television in Argentina emerged in the 1960s more as a modality of the television system, than as a new industry. Topographical conditions and some political reasons prevented free-to-air television from reaching certain cities classified as the most prosperous. This fact was taken advantage of by cable television since they saw in these populations their possible subscribers, considering that they were important social sectors and with the capacity to pay.

Despite this, the development of cable television was affected during the following years thanks to the expansion of the free-to-air television network. It was not until 1980 when significant penetration quotas were achieved both in large Argentine cities and in the towns of the interior.

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The current characteristics of cable television in Argentina can be specified as follows: more than 70% of subscribers belong to two large groups: Cablevisión and Multicanal; the concentration of production is in the city of Buenos Aires; the number of cable companies has been considerably reduced, and the percentage of subscribers has increased together with the participation of foreign capital.

In the immediate future, and especially with the development of the market for fiber optics, cable represents an immense flow of business: Pay per View systems and Premiun channels, Internet access via Cable-Modem, video game channels, telebanking and teleshopping, are just a small example of this.

Regarding its participation in the cultural industry, there are important expectations in this regard. The possibility of support by cable systems for associations and social development organizations through the transfer of some signals or a percentage of their income is envisaged. In any case, to make this project a reality, it is necessary that there are policies that support this type of proposal, and perhaps, solid citizen movements that promote them, as happened with the case of Brazil.

As a sign that this is possible in Latin America and that there are already public initiatives in this regard, we bring up the case of Mexico, where there are 1300 radio stations, 500 open television and 300 cable television systems. There the Government of the State of Colima has promoted the project called Ciudad Cableada through which half of its territory will have a cable television system for this year. This project is led by the University of Colima.

Another important aspect in the issue of regulations concerns the protection of the rights of the audience, particularly of the children's television audience. The Chilean case, both in open broadcasts and cable television, is very important. There, the entity in charge of the concessions, and in turn, responsible for regulating the contents is the National Television Council. In carrying out its functions, the Council has determined that television broadcasting between six o'clock in the morning and ten o'clock at night must be suitable for the whole family, not only free-to-air television but also cable television systems.

However, according to Pilar Armanet, director of the National Television Council of Chile, the fact that the legislation does not establish clear differences between open television and the subscription service generates many difficulties when applying the same criteria to each.

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Regional overview

The legislative panorama of Cable Television in Latin America can be enriched with some general data about the different countries, which reveal that it is still a process in progress, without going into detail the problems generated by the phenomenon of piracy and the violation of Copyright.

In Guatemala, for example, television is regulated by an old Radiocommunication Law that does not cover cable systems or satellite transmissions. A new law to update this regulation is barely debated in Congress.

For its part, in Ecuador, air and cable subscription television is authorized by the National Council of Radio and Television. But much of the issues related to physical cable are in the process of legislation.

The national coverage perhaps of greater inequality is found in Bolivia, since there are more than 100 private channels of which only a few are broadcast through cable and their coverage only reaches 5% of the population. Paradoxically, it is the group that represents the most economically influential population.

As we can see, cable television in different Latin American countries still has many things unsolved. Society demands the satisfaction of its rights as a television audience with the offer of new and better alternatives and the guarantee of a more equitable coverage. Although the options that exist are not available to everyone, reality shows us that the commitment and commitment of society raise the possibility that television can be managed, truly, as the public and democratic good established by the legislations of our countries.

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