Mérida, August 5th 2009 (Venezuelanalysis.com) - In response to private international and national media claims that Venezuela is discussing a media law which denies freedom of expression and punishes journalists, National Assembly members said that no such law proposal exists, only a discussion around how to combat the "media dictatorship" and "media terrorism."
The president of the media commission in the National Assembly, Manuel Villalba, said on Tuesday that a proposal for a law with 17 articles, as claimed by some media, doesn't exist and that rather, the Attorney General, Luisa Diaz, had presented ideas to the National Assembly, which are being debated, but that there is no consensus around her proposals.
"It's not official," Villalba said, explaining that no law had been formally presented or proposed. "All this just confirms that there are media owners who are systematically disseminating false opinions," he said.
Legislator Rosario Pacheco said that so far the draft that they have of the law considers media crime the publication of false, manipulative or distorted information that causes "harm to the interests of the state" or that threatens "public morale or mental health." The assembly has discussed a maximum penalty of four years prison.
Journalist Asalia Venegis told Venezuelan Television (VTV), "This law project... incorporates everything that is unequivocally expressed in the Law of Journalist Practice and the Code of Ethics, which establish a series of perspectives over what the treatment of the news and the role of the journalist should be."
Diaz also suggested the law should focus on protection for journalists who are coerced into putting their name to, or writing articles that they don't believe. Therefore, she said, rather than going against freedom of expression, the law should "promote safe and true freedom of expression that reaches everyone and doesn't attack the peace of the citizens."
Further, she said in Article 20 of the Constitution, everyone has the right to freedom of expression, so long as they don't violate the rights of others or attack the state, the health of other people, or the public morale.
Since Diaz's contribution to the National Assembly, opposition media and international media have published articles suggesting that the Venezuelan government supports jail for media crimes and is trying to "regulate" or "limit" free speech.
El Tiempo (Latin America) portrayed the lack of consensus in the assembly as a negative thing and quoted Organisation of American States (OAS) general secretary, Jose Insulza, as saying the "situation of freedom of expression in Venezuela is "worrying."
The Venezuelan newspaper, El Universal, quoted the director of Amnesty International talking about "unacceptable restrictions on the freedom of expression" in Venezuela. An AFP article titled "Chavez's measures towards the press cause protests and international unease" highlighted the possibility of jail punishment, and quoted a protestor as saying "we're journalists, not criminals".
But legislator Desiree Santos said the debate had begun because it was important to establish mechanisms that guarantee the right of the people to be informed truthfully. "There has always been full freedom of expression [in Venezuela], even when there has been an excessive use of that freedom," she said.
"Bad [media] practice has to be confronted, because there can't be anyone in this country who acts with absolute impunity," Santos said. "The discussion about the proposal for the law should be centred on analysing the media and fighting terrorism, the... environment of tension that [the media] is creating amongst the population."
Villalba also said, "It's not okay that in the name of freedom of expression arbitrary abuses are committed, and all kinds of outrages."
He said the National Assembly would continue debating the contributions made by Attorney General Diaz, and he called on all social sectors to also participate in the discussion.
There have been debates and forums across Venezuela for the last few months around the theme of media terrorism or the media dictatorship, a dictatorship which Villalba argued is being "imposed from the large social communication companies," nationally and internationally.
On Sunday Diosdado Cabello, head of Venezuela's telecommunications agency (CONATEL), announced the closure of 34 private radio stations for operating illegally or violating regulations. The minister said many of the stations had failed to register or pay fees to CONATEL. Decisions are still pending on a further 206 stations.
Cabello also explained that new reforms to the Telecommunications Law aim to break up the "media latifundios" by limiting ownership of radio or television stations to three per private owner. Under the reforms broadcasting concessions are designated as un-inheritable property, and are therefore non-transferable to family or colleagues in the event of the death of a concession holder.
Last Friday, the minister for communication and information, Blanca Eekhout, said 90% of international publications constantly lie about, discredit, and stigmatise Venezuela.
Published on Aug 6th 2009 at 8.25am
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