Press freedom under assault in Venezuela?

Venezuelan Prosecutor General Luisa Ortega July 30 proposed legislation to limit the media’s freedom of expression in certain circumstances, citing the importance of national security. Under the proposed law, journalists could face up to four years in prison for “threatening the social peace, security and independence of the nation, public order, stability of state institutions, mental health, and public morals and for generating a climate of impunity or insecurity. The law would also punish those who disseminate false information, resulting in public panic. Ortega later stressed to the media that the measures are essential for balancing freedom of expression with safety and security concerns.

The Committee to Project Journalists (CPJ) called the proposed legislation a “serious setback to freedom of expression and democracy in Venezuela, and part of a pattern of repression by President Chavez to silence independent and critical voices.” The National Assembly, controlled by allies of President Hugo Chávez, began debating the measure Thursday and is expected to approve it within the next few months.

Venezuela has been criticized repeatedly for its limits on freedom of expression and religion. In May, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) added Venezuela to its “watch list” of countries that limit religious freedom. In February the US State Department criticized Venezuela for press restrictions in its 2008 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices. In September, Venezuelan officials ordered two senior Human Rights Watch (HRW) staff to leave the country after after the group released a report concluding that democracy and human rights have suffered under the Chávez administration. (Jurist, July 31)

The move comes as the Venezuelan government has announced the revocation of the licenses of more than 200 radio stations, citing the need to combat “media terrorism” by privately owned networks. The stations are to be transfered into public hands to “democratize” the airwaves. “The use of the radio-electric spectrum is one of the few areas where the revolution has not been felt,” said Diosdado Cabello, head of the telecommunications agency. The stations, almost 40% of the country’s total, had not updated their registrations, Cabello said.

TV stations have long been obliged to interrupt regular programming to transmit Chávez’s speeches—which can last more than four hours—when he declares what is known as a “cadena.” The measure will affect RCTV, a vocal critic of Chávez that relaunched as a subscription network after its public license was revoked in 2007. It supported a brief coup against Chávez in 2002. (The Guardian, July 10)

“This is part of a package of measures against freedom of expression in the best Cuban style,” said Nelson Belfort, president of Caracas-based Circuito Nacional Belfort, which owns five of the closed radio stations. “The government doesn’t accept a single criticism.” His stations are among 32 that are to close immediately. (Bloomberg, Aug. 3, 2009)

See our last post on Venezuela.

Please leave a tip or answer the Exit Poll.

  1. Chavez/ /Castro scheme
    Castro’s scheme, implemented by Chavez, Ortega, Morales, Correa, Zelaya, etc. works along these lines:

    1.   Select a wannabe dictator — a “charismatic” and depraved megalomaniac who is ready to sell out his country (like Chavez, Morales, Correa, Zelaya). Help him run for president of the country.

    2.   Invest millions in a “professional” campaign demonizing the opposition and promising change to help the poor, end corruption, improve schools… whatever people want to hear.

    3.   Commit as much fraud as possible to make sure the wannabe dictator wins.

    4.   Have “protectors of human rights” like Insulza (OAS) — who have really been trampling on human rights by promoting communism for years — declare that the elections were “legal and transparent.” Carter has also been used to do this dirty job.

    5.   Make sure that, once in power, the wannabe dictator takes over the Legislative and Judicial branches of power, destroys the country’s institutions, intimidates and controls the media, and demonizes, intimidates and even kills anyone trying to defend the country.

    6.   Have a referendum to approve a new constitution. Representatives of the people are supposed to write that constitution. In reality, people don’t even know what’s in the new constitution, which is written by Castro/Chavez’s agents before the wannabe dictator even “runs” for office.

    7.   Have Insulza (OAS) and others who pretend to “protect human rights” declare that the referendum is perfectly “legal and transparent.” .

    The goal of the new constitution is to help the wannabe dictator become a full-blown dictator for life (like Castro in Cuba), prevent people from defending themselves, and create a network of tyrants that protect each other.

  2. Are you sure??
    I understand your concerns here as a journalist, but I’m not so sure its safe to draw such a conclusion based upon which “press” this legislation is targeted at. Do you honestly think it would oppress the Venezuelan equivalent of journalists such as those here at the WW4 report, or is it targeted more at the wealthy, private oligopolistic media with a well documented anti-government pro-neoliberal agenda of its own? I would tend towards the latter.

    I will grant you that the issue is far from clear cut, but I think because of this very fact greater caution in the choosing of headlines is warranted.

    1. I thought I was hedging my bets with the question mark
      I have sympathy for the notion that “freedom of the press belongs to those who own one,” and that the means of communication should be redistributed just like land and the means of production. But 200 radio stations strikes me as somewhat (shall we say?) excessive.