Caracas, September 22nd 2009 (Venezuelanalysis.com) -
Journalists, reporters and media workers representing independent, alternative,
community and public media from across Latin America met in Caracas in a
counter-summit to protest the so-called "Emergency Forum on Freedom of Speech"
that was organized by the Inter-American Press Association and the Venezuelan
Press Bloc over September 18-19.
During the forum at the Lido hotel in Caracas, IAPA
representatives claimed there had been a "major setback" for freedom of
expression in Latin America over the past year
and that Venezuela
was providing a model for other Latin American governments to follow on this
are examples of states that have promoted laws to restrict press freedom, and Argentina is now
discussing a similar law," IAPA Vice President Gonzalo Marroquin alleged.
In July, the Venezuelan National Assembly reformed the Telecommunications
Law to limit the concentration of private radio and television ownership and specified
that broadcasting concessions are not inheritable property.
The government also moved to regulate the use of the public airwaves,
closing down a number of private radio stations that were operating without a
Diosdado Cabello, the head of Venezuela's National
Telecommunications Commission (CONATEL), said the measures had nothing to do
with limiting freedom of expression. Cabello pointed out that those affected
could continue to broadcast via internet or cable.
Venezuelan Communications Minister Blanca Eeckhout, who spoke at the counter-summit,
said that the IAPA forum was part of a campaign, in alliance with U.S.
imperialism, to discredit the government of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez
and other progressive governments in the region.
Eeckhout, who is also the former president of Catia TV, a community
television station in Caracas, detailed the role of the private media during
the short-lived opposition coup against Chavez between April 11-13, 2002.
During the coup, Catia TV, state-owned VTV, as well as numerous
community radio and television stations were violently shut down, while the private
media imposed a blackout on events unfolding around the country, playing soap
operas and cartoons instead, Eeckhout explained.
The IAPA statement on April 12 failed to condemn these violations of
freedom of expression. Instead, it welcomed the installation of the coup
government as a step that would "hopefully...ensure the restoration of true
democracy," Eeckhout pointed out.
The IAPA is an organisation that represents media owners and corporate
business interests, not journalists, the minister continued. Eeckhout added that
the aim of the IAPA's "Emergency Forum" is "to cast shadows of doubt and
confusion about the democratic, participatory and protagonist model, which is
developing true freedom and justice for Venezuelans and is promoted by the
revolutionary government of President Hugo Chavez."
Responding to Eeckhout's comments, Marroquin said, "We haven't come to
destabilize any government, that's ridiculous, we're not a political party."
However, in an investigative report for Venezuelanalysis.com,
independent reporter Michael Fox detailed the political bias of the IAPA. The
report revealed links between some of the IAPA's key members and Latin
America's right wing dictatorships, including that of Fulgencio Batista in Cuba
(1952-1959), and the leaders of the coup against Chilean President Salvador
Allende on September 11, 1973.
More recently, the IAPA has been linked to the military coup in Honduras which ousted
the democratically elected president Manuel Zelaya on June 28. Jorge Canahuati,
the majority owner of two of the pro-coup newspapers in Honduras, La Prensa and El Heraldo, is also the
president of the IAPA's international commission.
In addition, Roberto Micheletti, who was installed by the coup as de
facto president, is the owner of the newspaper La Tribuna. One of his associates at the newspaper
is Edgardo Dumas Rodriguez, a Honduran representative to the IAPA.
In a scenario comparable to the 2002 coup in Venezuela, critical media
outlets in Honduras were occupied by the military during and after the June 28 coup, while the majority of private television stations played
cooking shows, soap operas or cartoons and later reported that a "legal
transition" had taken place.
Under the coup regime journalists have been threatened and detained,
many media outlets have been shut down, constitutional rights suspended,
nation-wide military curfews imposed, and the broadcasting teams of Latin America-wide
station Telesur and Venezuelan state TV channel VTV expelled from Honduras at
When asked why the IAPA has not condemned the coup or failed to criticise
Honduran media outlets which openly support a regime that crushes free speech,
IAPA President Enrique Santos (owner of Colombia's El Tiempo) responded on July
4 that while there may "possibly be newspapers that have been partisans of the
change of government," this was no reason for IAPA to "tell them what to think...
the IAPA is not a monolithic organisation, where all partners have to have the
same political criteria."
Commenting on the IAPA's claims about press freedom in Latin America, Nelson
del Castillo, secretary general 0f the Latin American Federation of Journalists
(FELAP), said, "as far as Latin America is concerned, the IAPA has been an accomplice
in barbarity and has fathered the derailment of democratic processes... all they
want is to violate peoples rights and keep them in the most backward situation
politically, economically, and socially."
Although public media has been greatly expanded and community media has
thrived over the past ten years in Venezuela, the majority of the radio,
television and print media remains in private hands, and is vehemently opposed
to the Chavez government.
Gonzalo Gomez, an independent journalist and co-founder of the
Venezuelan political news and analysis website www.aporrea.org,
told the counter-summit that in order to "really counter the offensive of
capital and imperialism, the people must take communication into their own
hands, since there is no such thing as people power without popular