Caracas, February 6, 2007 ( venezuelanalysis.com )— Venezuela’s Minister of Communications and Information, Willian Lara, yesterday rejected a report by the Committee for the Protection of Journalists (CPJ) which accused Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez of “controlling, intimidating and censoring the media.”
The “Attacks on the Press” report by the New York-based CPJ, which calls itself “an independent, non-profit organization dedicated to defending press freedom worldwide” and which is funded by individuals, corporations and foundations, identified Chavez and his Russian counterpart President Putin among the worst offenders stating, “Presidents Chavez and Putin represent a generation of sophisticated, elected leaders who have created a legal framework to control, intimidate, and censor the news media,” according to the news agency AFP.
In response Lara stated, “The report by the self-proclaimed Committee for the Protection of Journalists is a rehash of the same old anti-governmental propaganda used by forces of the opposition through its television companies, radio stations, and newspapers since 1999,” according to the state news agency, ABN.
“Its falseness is patent when we observe the absolute freedom -even to spread lies for political ends- with which the press operates in Venezuela,” Lara added.
According to the CPJ report, “The rise of ‘democratators’ — popularly elected autocrats — is alarming because it represents a new model for government control.”
Lara hit back saying that Chavez was the most tolerant of all Venezuelan presidents in Venezuela’s democratic era, and pointed out that Chavez did not suspend constitutional guarantees following the short-lived military coup against his government in April 2002, or during the two month long opposition-led oil strike in December 2002.
Lara’s response to the CPJ report comes in the wake of widespread criticism of the government’s decision announced in December last year not to renew the broadcast license for the privately-owned RCTV television channel, which expires in May this year.
In June 2006, the government announced it would be evaluating broadcasters’ adherence to the Law of Social Responsibility in Radio and Television, and warned that licenses up for review in 2007 might not be renewed. According to this media regulation law, passed in November 2004, violations of the law’s provisions can lead to fines and, in extreme cases, to a temporary or even permanent suspension of broadcast licenses.
CPJ immediately condemned the announcement saying, “We urge President Chavez to abstain from making these kinds of threatening commentaries, which inhibit the work of the press,” according to AFP. International media groups such as Paris-based Reporters without Borders and the International Press Institute also expressed their concern at the decision.
The government argues it has good reason not to renew RCTV’s license, saying the channel was one of the main protagonists in the organization and execution of the 2002 coup, and actively misinformed the public during the coup when it claimed that Chavez government supporters were shooting at opposition demonstrators. The channel also hosted exclusive interviews with coup plotters and is accused by the government of failing to provide news coverage of the anti-coup demonstrators who took to the streets in support of Chavez, broadcasting cartoons instead. To top it all off, RCTV’s reputation as a coup-plotting channel stems from its support for the December 2002 oil strike, an attempt to force Chavez from office.