Bogotá, Colombia -- Colombia's government is taking direct
action to close down and prosecute pirate cable companies accused of signal theft.
The Colombian attorney general's office recently closed the
offices and seized the equipment of a number of small, informal cable providers. And there
are currently 25 indictments of alleged satellite piracy in Bogotá.
The move is the product of an anti-piracy campaign set in
motion by the government in conjunction with international agencies.
Earlier this year, Colombia's leading
intellectual-property-rights watchdog, known as the Colombian Center for Author's Rights
(CECOLDA), launched an anti-piracy crusade involving public-awareness campaigns, the
creation of an intergovernmental body to coordinate anti-piracy efforts and the training
of specialized law-enforcement agents.
"Slowly, but surely, we've done a great deal with
minimum resources," said Guillermo Zea, a lawyer and president of CECOLDA.
This anti-piracy offensive is also backed by U.S. studio
trade group the Motion Picture Association, which has done similar work with government
agencies in other Latin American countries, notably Venezuela.
About 2.5 million households in Colombia are believed to be
receiving cable service from unlicensed operators, which prefer to dub themselves
"informals" because they were established and grew at a time when Colombia had
not established clear, coherent laws governing the industry.
The anti-piracy offensive was boosted by the attorney
general's office's decision in September to create a special investigative subunit, with
two lawyers dedicated to combat satellite-signal theft. This body is currently dealing
with the 25 indictments involving satellite piracy in Bogotá.
These law-enforcement activities are part of a renewed
debate on cable piracy in Colombia, which has emerged since the top Colombian regulator on
cable, the National Television Commission (CNTV), nullified the licensing process that
would have legalized many informal cable operators.
The CNTV had been set to announce the winners of the
licensing process Nov. 5, until it was called off at the 11th hour after the attorney
general's office voiced complaints about the fairness and professionalism of the process.
Even though a new tender is now being organized, new
licenses will not be granted until mid-1999 at the earliest, according to CNTV officials.
In the past, the CNTV has argued repeatedly that it will not enforce the law against
illegal cable operators until a proper framework is implemented to formalize them.
This major setback has prompted two international
organizations that work closely in Latin America to organize a mission to Colombia.
U.S.-based channel trade group the Television Association of Programmers Latin America
(TAP) and the MPA will meet with government officials this Wednesday through Friday (Dec.
9 to 11) to discuss the outlook for the new licensing process and the situation regarding
the informal sector.
"We want to reinforce the fact that programmers need
clear rules to do business in Colombia. At the moment, we are very handicapped. We are in
limbo, which is the worst possible situation to be in," said Juan Carlos Urdaneta,
senior vice president of Turner Broadcasting System Latin America Inc.
According to Bogotá newspaper El Tiempo, government
and opposition parliamentary members are considering the possibility of eliminating the
CNTV in a broad-sweeping constitutional and political reform now being discussed in
Jo Dallas contributed to this report.