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The Associated Press December 10, 2010, 4:42PM ET

Venezuela considers Internet regulations

President Hugo Chavez's government is proposing to impose broadcast-type regulations on the Internet with a law that would ban messages deemed to provoke panic or show disrespect for public authorities.

The proposed "Social Responsability Law" includes electronic media along with radio and television in regulating what can be transmitted. It was presented to the National Assembly by Vice President Elias Jaua on Thursday.

It would ban messages "that could incite or promote hatred," that are aimed at creating "anxiety" in the population, that "disrespect public authorities," that could incite assassination attempts or condone criminal activity, or that could "constitute war propaganda."

The proposal appears to impose stricter rules on the Internet than on print media.

Opposition lawmaker Juan Jose Molina said on Twitter that if the changes are approved, "the state will control Internet service."

Chavez has denied wanting to control the Internet but has said his opponents often use the Web to "generate panic" and that such actions "cannot be permitted."

It is not clear how the law might be applied or what sanctions could be imposed.

Existing law requires broadcasters to classify their programming based on sexual and violent content and to keep to schedules for family programming. Fines may be levied.

The new bill says Internet service providers, like TV and radio stations, would be required to provide information about "acts" subject to the regulations -- an apparent reference to messages deemed unacceptable.

Chavez allies who have overwhelming control of the National Assembly are trying to pass several bills before January, when a newly elected legislature takes office with a far higher proportion of opposition lawmakers.

Venezuelan authorities already have prosecuted some people for remarks made online, in some cases alarming free-speech advocates.

A man employed by Venezuela's state electric utility was arrested in September after authorities said he used a message on Twitter to call for President Hugo Chavez's assassination. The man, Jesus Majano, was arraigned and then freed pending additional court hearings. Prosecutors have accused him of "instigating public hatred."

In July, Venezuelan prosecutors accused two people of spreading false rumors about the country's banking system using Twitter. The attorney general's office said the two were detained and then freed pending additional court hearings. The press freedom group Reporters Without Borders accused the government of targeting ordinary Internet users who were simply expressing their views online.

Pro-Chavez lawmaker Manuel Villalba, in remarks to the state-run Venezuelan News Agency, denied the measures are aimed at restricting the Internet. Lawmakers are scheduled to discuss the proposed revisions to the broadcast law on Tuesday.

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