Caracas, Venezuela, March 21, 2006—The Inter-American Press Association issued a report yesterday, in which it warned that freedom of speech is threatened in Venezuela. The Venezuelan government’s reaction was swift, denouncing the report before it was issued, with the Minister of Communication and Information, William Lara, saying that the Press Association (IAPA) does not stand for freedom of the press, but represents the interests of media owners, who have allied themselves with the Bush administration to discredit the Chavez government.
According to the IAPA report, which was presented and approved during the organization’s semi-annual meeting in Quito, Ecuador this past weekend, the Chavez government “violates articles 57 and 58 of the constitution … which are related to freedom of expression and the right to information.”
Also, the report criticizes, “the aggressions and acts of intimidation that the Venezuelan government is pursuing against independent mass media and journalists.” Specifically, the report cites the pursuit of media with the arbitrary use of the government’s tax collection agency (Seniat) and “intimidation with gangs.”
Other supposed examples of the limitation of freedom of press that the report cites is the Law for Social Responsibility in Radio ant Television and the prosecution of journalists for defamation, slander, and disrespect.
The IAPA decided to send an observer mission to Venezuela to examine for itself the situation of freedom of the press in the country.
The Minister of Communication and Information, William Lara, reacted to the IAPA report, saying that the Quito IAPA meeting was a meeting of, “the exploiters of journalists, who get richer all the time exploiting the honest work of Venezuelan journalists … and pretend to present themselves as the spokespersons of journalists, trafficking in lies in order to put the name of Venezuelan democracy and the image of the Venezuelan people in a bad light.”
Marcel Granier, the President of the oppositional TV channel RCTV headed up the Venezuelan media delegation in Quito.
Lara emphasized that all journalists in Venezuela that are currently being prosecuted are facing trial not for practicing journalism, but for having committed crimes. “It seems absurd to me that [the IAPA] is trying to make it appear to the rest of the American continent that someone being prosecuted for swindling is representative of Venezuelan journalists,” said Lara, referring to the case of Gustavo Azócar, who is being tried for embezzlement.
The communications ministry also released a communiqué, in which it stated that, “The report’s clear purpose is to simulate the existence of a confrontation between the government and journalists. That is not the case. [The confrontation] is about citizens being sued by other citizens that believe they are victims of petty crimes such as fraud, embezzlement, perjury and defamation.”
The communiqué counters the eleven instances of alleged government restrictions of freedom of press in the IAPA report. Instances include the one day closure of a local newspaper, El Impulso, which was closed and fined because of tax evasion charges. Another instance that the report mentions and is challenged by the ministry is a judge’s prohibition against the publishing of the official investigation files of the murder of Public Prosecutor Danilo Anderson. Also mentioned is the case of Nelson Mezerhane, a co-owner of the oppositional TV channel Globovision, and the journalist Patricia Poleo, who are being accused of having been co-conspirators in the Danilo Anderson murder.
The communiqué concludes, stating, “The fourth power usually has an influence compared to the other three constitutional powers. The difference is that no one elects them. Believing they were able to change and modify the way Venezuelans see reality, media owners led a number of coup attempts in Venezuela. They still make racist and hate remarks, anti-communist callings, and further dividing society.”
Ministry Communiqué, followed by IAPA Report on Venezuela
Ministry of Communication and Information Press Release Regarding Report issued by the Interamerican Press Association (IAPA)
March 20, 2006
The Ministry of Communication and Information gives its impression regarding the report debated by the Interamerican Press Association (IAPA), specifically in its discussion about freedom of speech in Venezuela according to media owners in the country.
In its March 18 edition, Venezuelan newspaper El Nacional published a so-called “Report on Press Freedom in Venezuela,” which was debated at the midyear IAPA meeting. The IAPA gathers all media owners in the hemisphere.
The “report’s” clear purpose is to simulate the existence of a confrontation between the government and journalists. That is not the case. It is about citizens being sued by other citizens that believe they are victims of petty crimes such as fraud, embezzlement, perjury and defamation.
Let us analyze IAPA’s report on the so-called structural threats to press freedom in Venezuela:
Venezuela’s constitution was discussed and approved by the population in a referendum. The Venezuelan government has been ratified in nine consecutive elections. According to the IAPA, these facts represent “a totalitarian inspired political process,” because the powers are “subordinated to the president’s will.”
This arbitrary affirmation (in Venezuela, the president does not appoint judges to the Supreme Court, nor do the governors choose the Electoral College, as in the US) is based, according to the report, on recent public demonstrations of support to the constitution on the part of some members of the Supreme Court. According to the IAPA, the constitution is “part of the regime’s political project.”
The report has eleven points:
1. - El Impulso newspaper case
Currently, taxes are being paid in Venezuela. If a company fails to do so, there are a number of fines and sanctions. In the case of El Impulso newspaper, tax authorities found some irregularities and the newspaper was fined and closed for a day. The government is not going to bully anyone and it will not let anyone bully it.
2. - Economic Pressure
The Venezuelan media moguls were used to have all privileges as they blackmailed scared officials who were afraid of their publishing their crimes. The Bolivarian government is not perfect, but it is not afraid of denouncement nor does it vow to the media power, even though it stands at a 5 to 1 ratio regarding media outlets’ numbers.
3. - TV stations Intimidation
Some private TV channels actively participated in the planning and execution of two coups in 2002: the one involving the military in April and the one involving the oil sector in December. It is the state’s right and duty to adopt all legal measures to avoid another media-led coup. The control of Globovisión and RCTV’s antennae during previous and upcoming elections is a legal and necessary measure.
4. - General Attorney ordered media investigation
If a judge prohibits the documents to be used in a criminal prosecution case, one cannot claim it is previous censorship. These proofs can only be known by the litigant parties, according to Venezuelan penal code.
Some of the parties accused of planning the murder of Danilo Anderson, a district attorney, actively took part in the media-led coup of 2002 and during the short-lived dictatorship of Pedro Carmona, who attorney Anderson was investigating when he was murdered. There are reasonable doubts regarding the interests of those who said that such prohibition was censorship.
6. - El Nacional newspaper case
The report expresses that this ministry “published a warning to El Nacional newspaper” regarding a so-called “cover-up and defamation” for having published an op-ed on February 21, 2006, where “the Venezuelan National Electoral Council is generally questioned.”
Actually, the op-ed says “they did everything in their power to electronically lower the abstention rate” (…)”they did everything possible to put up an electoral process” and it mentions “the million of electronic votes that they already have in the software.” This op-ed accuses the National Electoral Council of harsh electoral crimes. The Ministry of Communication and Information warned that if El Nacional did not come with substantial proof, it could be accused of covering up.
7. - Freedom restriction against editor and journalist
The fact that Nelson Mezerhane and Patricia Poleo are editor and journalist, respectively, has nothing to do with their innocence or guilty charge regarding the murder of Danilo Anderson. The Executive branch has nothing to do with how the district attorney functions. The fact that Patricia Poleo escaped to Miami “for fears of being tortured” has nothing to do with reality.
8. - Bombs against La Región newspaper
On March 8, 2006, La Región newspaper was attacked for unknown reasons and individuals. The IAPA report states that this attack is part of attacks against the free press because its editorial chief expressed that “it could be the result of the publication of many reports made by the community”.” We understand that media owners are desperate to portray the Bolivarian government as ineffective.
9. - Aggressions to journalists
The report attaches a series of aggressions against journalists. Aggressions made by students, the asking of accreditation by security personnel, professionals hurt by unknown parties, a district attorney confiscating a photo camera, the criminal prosecution of a TV host who called the Supreme Court a bordello, the words expressed by an accused mayor by a journalist and the incarceration of a journalist due to an embezzlement case.
10. - The Ibéyise Pacheco case
This is the poster-child case in the media campaign against the Venezuelan government. Going back to her 1994 sentence by the Ethics Tribunal of the Journalists’ Association, today, Pacheco faces accusation from 15 individuals. This professional slander, recently sentenced by the courts, summarizes the model of communication that the IAPA defends and encourages. Pacheco was in the spotlight in April, 2002, when she insulted the then-kidnapped President Chávez on screen, as she interviewed his captors. Another case was when she accused the son of a minister with corruption and failing to retract when it was found out that the minister’s son had died several years ago.
11. - The Marianella Salazar Case
This journalist, along with Patricia Poleo and Ibéyise Pacheco, practices a kind of journalism based on perjury, slander and false accusations of Venezuelan government officials. They spread elaborated news coming from the Department of State and call “tyrants” those officers who defend their good names and sue them in the courts.
The fourth power usually has an influence compared to the other three constitutional powers. The difference is that no one elects them. Believing they were able to change and modify the way Venezuelans see reality, media owners led a number of coup attempts in Venezuela. They still make racist and hate remarks, anti-communist callings, and further dividing society.
Simultaneously, the Venezuelan government has been able to break through the media blockade as it spreads its example throughout the continent. The IAPA has taken sides with cruel dictatorships in the past and they lack the moral authority to qualify anyone. Its attack against Venezuela uncovers their dependency on Washington and its allies in Venezuela.
Contrary to George W. Bush and his lackeys’ obsession with Venezuela, the Bolivarian revolution renews democracy by empowering a free society, as it has been recognized by all the peoples of the world.
Translated by Néstor Sánchez Cordero
IAPA Report to the Midyear Meeting
March 17 - 20, 2006
New actions and attacks of every kind were recorded against journalists and independent media, and against freedom of expression and information,.
Submitting to the will of the President of the Republic, public powers were brought to bear to prevent citizens from expressing themselves freely, and to prevent them from receiving in a timely manner, without prior censorship, vital information concerning the realities of the country. A result of this has been the Constitutional Court of the Supreme Tribune´s decisions 1.013 and 1.942, the Law of Social Responsibility in Radio and Television, the reform of the penal code that now characterizes dissidence as criminal conduct. There are now as well new laws, decrees, rules and regulations, all of which make up a platform structured by the regime to carry out its actions restricting the media.
Remarkably, no less than members of the judicial branch, of all officials, have carried out public demonstrations of giving in to the regime´s political project, characterizing dramatically the situation of insecurity about the judicial branch that prevails in the country.
The Venezuelan Press Bloc, the National Journalists´ Colegio, the National Press Workers´ Union, the Radio Chamber, the Inter American Press Association, Reporters without Borders, Human Rights Watch, the Institute for Defense of Journalists, the International Association of Radio Broadcasters, the OAS Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and other institutions have made specific statements in regards to the repeated attacks against journalists and freedom of expression and information in Venezuela.
With the deliberate intention of muzzling independent media, the National Integrated Service of Customs and Tax Administration (SENIAT) declared “closed” El Impulso, the hundred-year old newspaper in Barquisimeto.
SENIAT officials, with military backup, closed the newspaper headquarters, as well as its offices and correspondents in Caracas October 25, 2005, evicting journalists and administrative employees and taking control of their workspace. The newspaper was not published October 26. The arbitrary measure that kept the newspaper from coming out that day was repudiated throughout the entire country.
The regime has put pressure on independent radio by imposing new taxes, requirements, administrative measures on radio broadcasting—all with the attendant fines, seizing of space and closures.
State agencies and businesses are assigning hefty advertising contracts to the ever-increasing numbers of print and radio media that are government-owned, while independent media receive little or no investment at all.
On December 2, 2005, representatives of the television stations Globovisión and Radio Caracas Television were warned by the Directory of Social Responsibility in Radio and Television that “they would take the measures necessary as to have no misinformation in the broadcasting of the elections” of representatives to the National Assembly, to be held two days later. The towers and transmissions of these channels were occupied by regime forces, blocking the access of technicians until after the elections were over.
Attorney General Isaías Rodríguez announced on January 19, 2006, a measure against newspapers, television and radio stations for alleged “obstruction of justice” and later asked a judge to issue an injunction on publishing or broadcasting information regarding a witness in the case of the murder of a prosecutor in the Public Ministry.
A judge (from the so-called Sixth Court of Control) prohibited the publication or broadcast of this information, concurring with a request by the Attorney General, and thus constituting a case of prior censorship, in violation of Article 57 of the Venezuelan Constitution which guarantees freedom of expression “without the establishment of censorship.”
The channels of Globovisión and Radio Caracas TV, the editor of the newspaper Tal Cual, the National Union of Press Workers and the civic association “Expresión Libre” (Free Expression) filed for writs of protection, but the judges denied them.
The Information Minister made public its warning to the newspaper El Nacional, pointing out its supposed “coverup, simulation of a punishable act or slander” for having published an editorial February 21, 2006, regarding the President of the Republic´s raising of a “consultative referendum” for his indefinite reelection that criticized the National Electoral Council.
The prosecutor of the Public Ministry made formal accusations against journalist Patricia Poleo and editor Nelson Mezaerhane and called for their incarceration on November 4, 2005, connecting them as “alleged masterminds” of the murder of a Public Ministry prosecutor. Both denied any connection with the crime. Editor Mezerhane, after having been held by the political police for 46 days after appearing voluntarily before a court, is now free on pretrial release and must appear before the court every 15 days.
On Wednesday, March 8, 2006, the newspaper La Región of Miranda State was firebombed. Its news editor confirmed that the attack could have been motivated by the publication of numerous accusations.
Other attacks against journalists:
On October 25, 2005, photographers from the newspaper Notitarde were kidnapped, assaulted and threatened with death by a group of alleged students after the photojournalists took pictures of the explosion of a bomb in the University of Carabobo.
Davíd Ludovic, a reporter for El Nacional, was attacked November 1, 2005, in front of the Presidential Palace in Caracas, as he was taking statements from two citizens. He was sequestered in a security office where he finally was forced to sign a statement saying that he had not been attacked.
Journalists José Trovat and Francia Malavé were injured when a person set fire to the bureau of the newspaper Notitarde in the city of Puerto Cabello.
On January 7, 2006, Globovisión journalist Gabriela Matute suffered insults and degrading remarks from the mayor of Caracas , while she was interviewing him about unwarranted invasions into private property.
On January 31, 2006, a Public Ministry prosecutor in Maracaibo confiscated cameras and film from a photojournalist from the newspaper La Verdad.
On February 9, the Prosecutor´s Office of the Public Ministry accused journalist Napoleon Bravo of being in contempt of the Supreme Court of Justice.
On March 6, 2006, journalist Gustavo Azócar Alcalá was detained by police forces in Táchira State on orders from a prosecutor in the Public Ministry. A judge upheld his arrest, resulting in the journalist´s imprisonment.
On March 13, 2006, a court, known as court 45 of control, brought journalist Marianella Salazar to trial for alleged libel in reference to the Venezuelan vice-president and the governor of Miranda State.
On March 13, 2006, a warrant was issued for the arrest of journalist Ibéyise Pacheco under charges of making “false statements.” Pacheco turned herself in on March 15, and the judge placed her under house arrest and banned her from writing her column or broadcasting her radio program. She also must report to court every two weeks.