Corporate Media Press Group Attacks Venezuela

Corporate media networks and their owners in the Americas issued fresh attacks against Venezuela last week during a meeting of the US-based Inter-American Press Association (IAPA).

As part of its 67th General Assembly, held in Lima, Peru, the private press association decried the expanding role of public media in Venezuela and denounced increased scrutiny by Venezuela’s National Telecommunications Commission (CONATEL) in cases where news networks violated the country’s Law of Social Responsibility on Radio and Television.

Based in Miami, Florida, the IAPA claims to represent some 1,300 private news firms across the Western Hemisphere. Though the organization often speaks on behalf of “freedom of the press”, the bulk of its criticisms have been directed at popular governments in the region who have worked to diversify their country’s media spectrum.

Public Media: “A Dangerous Weapon”

Having recently concluded their annual meeting (October 14-18), the Miami-based Inter American Press Association (IAPA) declared, “attempts to silence the independent press in the region have continued to become more and more intense throughout 2011”. By “independent”, the IAPA means non-public, or private, corporate-owned media.

Forced to recognize “the most serious danger for journalists is physical violence, crime, and the impunity surrounding such acts”, citing the murder this year of numerous journalists in Mexico, Honduras, and Brazil, the corporate media association went on to affirm that “intolerant and authoritarian governments try to reach the same goal of muting the media” by using “illegal pressures through court battles, arbitrary arrests, verbal attacks, restrictive laws or simple manipulation of government advertising”.

According to a UN report released on Monday, 13 journalists have been killed in Mexico this year alone. Forty-two reporters have been killed in Mexico in the past five years, most of which are assumed to be the victims of a US-backed drug war intensified by Mexican President Felipe Calderon.

Equating the death of journalists with the growth of publicly controlled media in the Americas, the IAPA last week accused numerous democratically-elected governments in the region, including Venezuela, Ecuador, and Argentina, of constructing “a parallel network of state-owned and government-supporting media that mount campaigns to discredit independent (corporate) media”.

Publicly-owned television, radio, and internet news media “are expanding without limit”, decried the media owners´ association.

While the IAPA admitted that “access to information is a key point for transparency of government agencies, as well as for the proper performance of journalists and the media” it failed to note that the Venezuela government won a 2011 United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) award for expanding free internet access to the Venezuelan people through government-funded Infocentros.

According to Internet World Stats, nearly 37.7% of Venezuelans have access to the Internet, a slightly larger percentage than, for example, Mexico’s 30.7%.

And while critics often accuse the Venezuelan government of censoring Internet-based information, a recent report by OpenNet, a joint initiative between Harvard Law School and Citizen Lab of the University of Toronto, found that no such censorship exists.

IAPA: Target Venezuela

According to the Washington Post’s Jackson Diehl, who attended the Lima summit, IAPA President Gonzalo Marroquin told those gathered that privately-owned media in the region are now involved “in a war between authoritarianism and democracy”.

In US Embassy cables released by the whistleblower website Wikileaks, former US Ambassador to Venezuela Patrick Duddy met with representatives of corporate opposition media Globovision, El Nacional, and the Cisneros Group in February 2010.

During one of these meetings El Nacional staff expressed their frustration with losses in “advertising revenue from companies that had either been nationalized or been threatened by the [Venezuelan government]”. To counter such losses, El Nacional representatives asked “the Ambassador whether the Embassy knew of services of private financing they could approach outside the country, or failing that, if the USG [US government] could be persuaded to help”.

As part of the IAPA summit held last week, opposition weekly Sexto Poder (Sixth Power) and daily Globovision were highlighted as victims of the Chavez government.

In the case of Sexto Poder, sanctioned for publishing a front-page cartoon depicting high-ranking female public officials as cabaret dancers in a show orchestrated by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, the IAPA report accused the Venezuelan government of “encroachment on the right of all Venezuelans to be informed”.

A day after Sexto Poder ran the cabaret depiction and a corresponding article, numerous women’s rights movements held demonstrations calling for the application of Venezuela’s Law on Social Responsibility in the Media, which prohibits the publication of hateful, slanderous, discriminatory and false information.

In response, Caracas-based Judge Denisse Bocanegra signed a temporary suspension of the paper’s distribution so that investigators could determine if Sexto Poder had broken the law.

The same judge later reauthorized the publication of the weekly on the condition that its editors cease to publish material that “constitutes an offense or insult against the reputation, decorum of any representative of the Public Powers with the objective of exposing them to disdain or public hatred”.

Another case used to exemplify the government assault on “independent” media was the opening of legal proceedings against Globovision for its coverage of the 2011 El Rodeo prison riot. After four months investigating the case, last week Venezuela’s National Telecommunications Commission (CONATEL) imposed a US$2.16 million (Bs. 9.3 million) fine on Globovision for violating articles 27 and 29 of the country’s Law of Social Responsibility in Radio and Television.

The public commission found that the news firm deliberately sought to create a situation of uncertainty and anxiety as authorities worked to negotiate and end to the prison uprising. Evidence cited by CONATEL included the repeated use of footage depicting distraught prisoners’ mothers, the excessive use of statements encouraging families to protest outside the prison, and edited footage of government spokespersons that included sounds of gunfire which were not originally there.

IAPA President Gonzalo Marroquin blasted the sanction against Globovision, calling it a “dictatorial measure” and “a new act of aggression against the independent press of Venezuela”.

During a November 2010 forum held at Capitol Hill (Congress) in Washington DC titled “Danger in the Andes: Threats to Democracy, Human Rights, and Inter-American Security” Globovision President Guillermo Zuloaga called on Washington to take action against the “threat” posed by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. He was joined at the DC summit by then IAPA President Alejandro Aguirre.