Venezuelan Government Responds to Internet Censorship Accusations

After Venezuela president Hugo Chavez publically criticised website Noticiero Digital for falsely reporting the assassination of a government official, national and international mass media alleged that the Venezuelan government wanted to censor the Internet. Various government officials have responded that internet media is not exempt from already existing laws.

By Tamara Pearson - Venezuealanalysis.com

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Attorney General Luisa Ortega (YVKE archive)
Attorney General Luisa Ortega (YVKE archive)
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Merida, March 17th, 2010 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – After Venezuela president Hugo Chavez publically criticised website Noticiero Digital for falsely reporting the assassination of a government official, national and international mass media alleged that the Venezuelan government wanted to censor the Internet. Various government officials have responded that internet media is not exempt from already existing laws. 

Chavez said on Saturday that Noticiero Digital had falsely reported the assassination of minister Diosdado Cabello, and said, “We have to act... this is a crime.” 

As a result, on Saturday Reuters headlined with “Venezuela’s Chavez calls for internet controls”  while Associated Press headlined with “Venezuela’s Chavez: Internet should be regulated”  and said that Chavez had called for internet regulation and demanded that authorities “crack down on a critical news Web site that he accused of spreading false information”. 

The BBC reported that, “the possibility that Venezuela will introduce internet regulations seems to be closer than ever.” and most mainstream media used the issue to refer again to the supposed “repression” by the Venezuelan government when it refused to re-new the license of pro 2002 coup TV channel, RCTV. 

Other Venezuelan and Spanish news headlines included, “Chavez: the Internet mustn’t be uncontrolled”, “Chavez on the verge of censuring the internet”, “...attacks freedom of expression”, “Attorney general asks that internet be regulated”. 

The site in question, Noticierodigital, yesterday had an article quoting opposition youth leader Yon Goicoechea saying, “The president is scared because he can’t invade the Internet” 

Venezuelan Attorney General Luisa Ortega responded on Monday that, “the internet can’t be a space free from the law, all activities that occur in this national territory must be subject to legal regulation,” and she said the national assembly should legislate around the issue. She also announced that the attorney general’s office would open an investigation on the false information published by Noticiero Digital. 

After a few days the news website removed the article that had falsely reported the assassination by armed groups, but did not correct, retract, or apologise for the error. 

United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) leader Aristobulo Isturiz clarified that media on the internet is subject to the Law of Social Responsibility, in the same way that television, radio, and newspapers are. 

He told press on Monday that, “Chavez didn’t demand that the internet be regulated, rather the president said that there are laws and that it’s necessary to act in accordance with the law.” 

Isturiz said that all media can’t say “what ever it feels like”  and that those who provide information are responsible for what they say. 

Isturiz rejected that the government wants to “muzzle the media, as opposition sectors have been saying” and argued that such messages are part of an “international campaign that claims Venezuela is shutting down the media”. He clarified that there currently is no document or project in the national assembly to regulate internet use. 

National Assembly legislator Manuel Villalba also told press yesterday, “The penal code, article 285... says that anyone using mass medias of communication to incite hate, vilification, to stain the honour and dignity of people or institutions, to attempt against the stability of the state...has to be the object of sanctions,” he added.

Further, he said the Venezuelan government has made a strong effort to ensure internet access and information technology is more widely available to the majority of Venezuelans. 

“In our schools, thanks to the national government, the kids have access to internet, something that didn’t exist before,” he said, adding that the spread of internet to remote areas and to the “popular sectors” is evidence of full freedom of expression. 

Opposition media also reported that the Venezuelan government wants to use a single access point to control the internet. Villalba disputed this and explained that, “When there isn’t this single access point, generally the communication companies have to connect to outside technologies, and the communication goes first to the United States then returns to Venezuela, because there isn’t a single place that allows for their communication.” 

The single access point would also, “benefit the companies because they won’t have to invest dollars towards obtaining this technology” he said. 

Franco Silva, president of Venezuela’s national communication company, CANTV, said the single access point, rather than trying to censor the internet, would provide for a more efficient service and that a similar method has already been successfully implemented in countries like Mexico and Brazil.

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