By its own admission, the government’s targeting of these 34 radio stations is a first step in considering similar actions against some 200 other stations across the country. President Hugo Chavez’s declared war on certain opposition media reached a new level of aggressiveness Monday when 35 pro-government militants stormed the Globovisión television station, brandished weapons, threw two tear-gas canisters, and injured two people.
NAHJ calls on authorities to investigate the incident at Globovisión and arrange effective protection for the station’s journalists and employees. (Press reports indicate that the leader of the violent incident, Lina Ron, was arrested Tuesday afternoon.) NAHJ also urges the government to reconsider its attempt to pass the Special Law Against Media Crimes, which we consider a true and far-reaching attack on freedom of expression and a free press.
The draft of the bill presented to the country’s legislature by Attorney General Luisa Ortega Díaz calls for jail sentences varying from six months to four years for journalists and media owners who publish or broadcast “false news,” or who “manipulate or distort the news” resulting in “generating a false perception of the facts or creating a mindset among society, so long as such action has damaged the social peace, domestic security, public order, and public health or public morality.”
It also calls for jail time for journalists or media owners who refuse to identify their sources or “who willingly and without any justification refuse to report on facts or situations whose lack of dissemination may harm the right to information” under the country’s constitution. In essence, journalists would be jailed for publishing the “wrong” information in the government’s view, or failing to publish what the government wants them to.
Government officials have said that the crackdown on the radio stations and some television stations are an effort to “democratize” the media and take back for the people airwaves controlled by particular interests in Venezuela.
Although there is a place and a necessity for government-sponsored media, increasing government control of media is another matter. It is clear that the sustained campaign against certain private-owned media is an attempt to silence dissent and criticism of the government. As attorney general Ortega herself stated, “The Venezuelan state must regulate freedom of expressions. I demand that a limit be placed on this right.”
We stand with our colleagues marching in Caracas or broadcasting in protest over loudspeakers in a public square in denouncing this as an attack on freedom of the press, which is not conducive to civic dialogue and the free airing of views essential for a healthy democracy.