Venezuela Rejects Criticism of Inter-American Press Association

The Inter-American Press Association, an association of media outlet owners, issued a report at its annual meeting in which it once again accused the Chavez government of stifling freedom of the press. Vice-President Rangel dismissed the report, saying that the IAPA has disqualified itself from making such judgements.

Caracas, Venezuela, October 11, 2005—The Venezuelan Vice President, Jose Vicente Rangel, reacted to the Inter American Press Association’s criticisms of press freedom in Venezuela by calling it a “totally discredited organization.” The Inter American Press Association (IAPA) is made up of editors and publishers and has over a thousand members. It has criticized Venezuela about press freedom in the past and made its most recent comments during its annual meeting held over the past three days in Indianapolis in the USA.

Gonzalo Marroquín, the head of the IAPA committee on Freedom of the Press and Information said, “We have seen that President Chávez’ government, far from tending in favor of freedom of the press, maintains a constant confrontation with media companies linked to the opposition or those which are independent.” IAPA said that the government uses laws and other decrees to control criticism against it and to limit press freedoms. It claimed that the Law for Social Responsibility in Radio and Television is an example of this.

The IAPA also urged that the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights “maintain a permanent vigilance” over the actions of President Chavez. According to the IAPA, Chavez controls all branches of government and thus, “it is utopian that there could be freedom of expression and of the press,” in Venezuela. All major opposition newspapers and TV stations in Venezuela placed special emphasis on the IAPA’s report on Venezuela today.

Jose Vicente Rangel was direct in his response to these statements. He called IAPA, “a Latrine,” and said, “it represents the dirtier and darker interests of the world media business.” He dismissed the Miami-based association’s authority to make such statements, saying IAPA, “is an organization totally discredited by its silence during true aggressions against liberty which have served all the dictators of Latin America.” He said that over the decades, “they kept silent while shameful things happened against freedom of expression such as the murder of journalists and the closing down of newspapers and other means of communication.”

Allegations have been made before about IAPA’s selective criticisms especially in the case of Venezuela. During the short-lived coup in April 2002 the majority of the Venezuelan media collaborated with the military and participated in the coup. One of IAPA’s members, El Universal, published a front-page article on the day after the coup about Carmona’s taking up of near dictatorial powers with the headline, “A Step Forward.”

During Carmona’s 48 hours in office there was serious and violent state repression of state and community media outlets hostile to the coup, unlike anything seen during the Chavez presidency. IAPA failed to criticize any of these actions, remaining silent on the issue. In contrast, it issued a press release broadly stating its support for Carmona and said that it was hopeful that he would restore press freedom and, “true democracy,” despite his abolition of the National Assembly and the constitution.