Mérida, 9th August 2013 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – Venezuelan newspapers El Nacional and Tal Cual have been issued fines by a Caracas court for publishing “inappropriate” images in 2010.
The penalties imposed on the two privately owned papers yesterday were in relation to a controversial photograph of the Bello Monte morgue in Caracas, which showed numerous deceased persons who appear almost entirely naked, with eyes blurred. The photograph appeared on the front page of both newspapers.
A statement published on the Public Ministry's website states that “the prosecution was able to impose fines on newspapers El Nacional and Tal Cual for publishing and disseminating on the 13 and 17 of August 2010, respectively, inappropriate images representing a danger to the psychological well-being of children and adolescents.”
The papers were found to have violated the Protection of Children and Adolescents Act. The fines were imposed in relation to Article 234 of the Act, which prohibits the publication of material “unsuitable for children or adolescents” without providing forewarning to viewers.
The proceedings against the newspapers were initiated by the Independent Institute for the Defence of Children and Adolescents along with the attorney general's office and the ombudsman’s office.
The judge presiding over the case urged the newspapers to refrain from publishing “images with violent content, weapons, physical attacks, bloody and naked bodies”.
The attorney for the defence, Juan Garanton has criticised yesterday's ruling.
“If you kill a police officer in a public street, or get a complaint about a group with hundreds of weapons, those images can't be published? This is very serious,” Garanton stated.
“The judgement is not final and enforceable, and we will appeal,” he stated.
The owner and editor of El Nacional Miguel Henrique Otero has accused the government of “trying to silence us”.
“The goal is to censor, shut up, try not to say things that are happening,” Otero has stated, according to an article published by El Nacional today. In the article, Otero also confirmed that he intends to appeal against the fine, which is equal to 1% of El Nacional's gross revenue for 2009.
Otero's publication ran the controversial photograph on 13 August 2010 in relation to a story on conditions in the Bello Monte morgue. However, morgue workers complained that the photo violated the privacy rights of the families of the deceased, and was taken without permission from the facility's administration. In the weeks that followed, conflicting reports of when the photo was taken also emerged.
Since then, the head of Venezuela's national criminal investigation body CICPC Wilmer Flores Trosel has stated that the photograph was taken in 2006, years before the story was first run by El Nacional. Trosel pointed to the presence of stretchers which had been replaced by the morgue before August 2010, during an overhaul of the Bello Monte facility.
In 2010, Otero defended the decision to run the photograph, stating during an interview with CNN that the “intention of the photo was to create a show for the people, so that they would react in some way in light of the situation where the government doesn’t do anything regarding national insecurity and personal insecurity”. CNN refused to run the image during the interview, citing it as too disturbing for viewers.
The ruling comes while Otero's bank accounts remain frozen at the request of the attorney general, Luisa Ortega. According to Ortega, the measure is in relation to an ongoing legal dispute between Otero and the former mayor of Caracas, Alfredo Peña. Last week, Otero stated that the freeze would not affect El Nacional, yet nonetheless has called the move “a new affront on freedom of expression”.