Venezuela “Deeply Troubled” by US Prosecution of Journalists

Venezuela’s Information Minister expressed concerns about recent legal actions by the U.S. government against several journalists, soon after U.S. criticizms of a new media law approved by the Venezuelan Legislature.

Venezuela Communication and Information Minister Andres Izarra
Former NBC and CNN journalist and now Venezuela’s Communication and Information Minister Andres Izarra is “deeply troubled” by the US actions against journalists.
Credit: Venpres file

Caracas, Venezuela. Dec 11, 2004 ( Venezuela’s Information and Communications Minister Andres Izarra expressed the Venezuelan government’s concerns about recent legal actions and measures taken by the government of the United States against several journalists.

Izarra highlighted the case of Jim Taricani, a U.S. journalist who was recently sentenced for refusing to identify the source of information he used in some of his reports. “Taricani is one of the nine journalists in the U.S., who have been charged or condemned during the last months for similar reasons,” Izarra said yesterday during a press conference.

Journalists for Time magazine and The New York Times have been threatened with jail for refusing to cooperate with authorities investigating the disclosure of an undercover CIA operative’s identity. These journalists have invoked the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees freedom of speech and the press.

The Minister exhorted the Inter American Commission on Human Rights to take measures to defend the articles of the American Convention aimed at protecting the rights of journalists. Izarra announced that the Venezuelan government has asked its Ambassador to the Organization of American States (OAS), Jorge Valero, to raise the issue before the OAS.

Izarra’s comments come after U.S. government criticisms of the law of Social Responsibility for Radio and Television, recently approved by the Venezuelan Legislature. Last Thursday, the U.S. State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said that the United States is “deeply troubled” by “the threats to freedom of expression” posed by the Venezuelan law. The new law, widely discussed for more than two years, is aimed at limiting violent content on TV, according to the Venezuelan government, but it has been criticized by the opposition and by groups such as the Inter American Press Association, which groups media executives throughout the continent.

“Deeply troubled”

“We are deeply troubled”, Izarra said in plain English, echoing the same phrase used by the U.S. spokesman in his statements against the new Venezuelan law. “These violations of freedom of expression and press by the government of the United States, violate fundamental accords contained in the American Convention on Human Rights, and cause an intimidating effect on the media and journalists, limiting the flow of information about matters of public interest,” Izarra said.

“Sadly, the U.S. government has not ratified some international conventions, turning their backs on the international community,” Izarra added.

Minister Izarra, a former journalist for the NBC and CNN news organizations, expressed the solidarity of the Venezuelan government with civilian organizations that struggle for freedom of expression rights in the United States, and “especially with the journalists who have received sentences for not revealing their sources”.

Servando Garcia Ponce, the director of the Venezuelan pro-Chavez newspaper VEA, shares the government’s concerns and accused the US government of having double standards. “This shows an enormous degree of hypocrisy by the US government,” Ponce said during a local radio show.

Reporters Without Borders, an international reporters’ rights group, said that cases such as Taricani’s showed that journalism is under pressure. Reporters Without Borders recently criticized a US report that exonerated the killers of two cameramen and the wounding of three other journalists on April, 2003, during a shooting by US military forces in Baghdad. Reporters Without Borders has also criticized the new Venezuelan law of Social Responsibility for Radio and Television, noting that it is “vaguely-termed” and that it “might be used against those that did not agree with the government.”