|IAPA condemns harsh blow to Venezuela’s democracy|
Miami (July 31, 2009)—The Inter American Press Association (IAPA) today condemned a legislative bill on “media offenses” introduced yesterday in Venezuela’s National Assembly, describing it as “a harsh attack upon citizens by abolishing their right to receive varied and multi-sourced information” and “a devastating blow to the remaining democracy in Venezuela.”
IAPA President Enrique Santos Calderón declared that the international community should no longer be surprised at the manner in which President Hugo Chávez executes his strategy of doing away with the few freedoms that remain to Venezuelan citizens. “This is undoubtedly a blow to the people’s freedoms and what remains of democracy in Venezuela,” he said.
Santos Calderón, editor of the Bogotá, Colombia, newspaper El Tiempo, added, “We are witnessing a calculated strategy that continues to shut down individual and collective liberties,” as made clear by the bill sent to Congress by Venezuela’s Attorney General, Luisa Ortega Díaz which violates the right to freedom of opinion, of the press and of expression, legalizes punishment of independent news media and journalists, promotes self-censorship and reverses the current trend in Latin America to decriminalize press offenses by adopting inter-American standards on these issues.
Yesterday Attorney General Ortega Díaz presented her bill to the government party-dominated Congress entitled “Special Legislative Bill Against Media Offenses.” The bill consists of 17 clauses aimed to “prevent and sanction acts or omissions unfolding through the media,” with penalties of up to four years’ imprisonment and other penalties.
Robert Rivard, chairman of the IAPA’s Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information, declared that the new law would create different categories of citizens in Venezuela by setting up a legal framework specific to the media and journalists. “The government should understand that in a democracy there cannot exist offenses by the press, but rather offenses that are committed through the press,” which are already regulated under existing laws that apply to all citizens equally.
If passed in its current form the bill would penalize, as stated in its Article 4, “actions or omissions that impair the right to timely, accurate and impartial information, that harm social peace, the security and independence of the nation, public order, stability of state institutions, and public mental or moral well-being; that generate a mood of impunity or insecurity, and that are committed through the news media.”
The IAPA has been consistent in its criticism of President Chávez' 10 year strategy to constrain the press. Among the abuses it lists are the 1999 constitutional reform which requires that only true and impartial information be published; judicial rulings such as the “1013” of 2001 that denies journalists the right of reply or rectification; the 2004 passage of a "gag law", or the Law for Social Responsibility of Radio and Television; 2005's Partial Reform of the Penal Code Law which increased penalties for contempt and defamation; application of regulations requiring media to have columnists of all ideologies – a clear infringement on editorial policies; the shutdown in May 2007 of RCTV, harassment of Globovisión and 240 broadcast stations that have been threatened with final closure, and the launch of numerous state online and print media and news agencies used to disseminate propaganda.
In Article 3 the bill defines the extent of its reach: “The owners and any other person that holds executive an position in print, television or radio media …" and “independent national producers, journalists, announcers, speakers, artists and any other person that expresses himself or herself through any communication medium..” Articles 5 to 12 detail the offenses and corresponding penalties: spreading false news, two to four years (in prison); manipulation of news, two to four years; refusal to disclose information, six months to two years; media coercion, one to three years; voluntary failure to provide information, two to four years; instigation, two to four years, and obstructing the activities of news media, one to three years.
IAPA officers said that what is behind the Attorney General’s and Public Works Minister Diosdado Cabello's launching an attack on the media and journalists in recent weeks is fear engendered by Chávez who, weeks earlier in his diatribe against Globovisión, called on his government officials to take on the media or otherwise leave the revolution.