MIAMI, Florida (May 13, 2009)—The Inter American Press Association (IAPA) today warned that establishment of a new policy for the inspection of radio and television stations by Venezuela’s communications regulation agency CONATEL appears to be a move by President Hugo Chávez to set the stage to allow him to justify shutting down independent news media.
CONATEL (National Telecommunications Commission) yesterday published its decision in the Official Gazette, just two days after Chávez attacked privately-owned GlobovisiónTV, warning that he could take it off the air for “conspiring” against his government. In the same speech he called on official agencies to take action against anyone who fails to comply with the Law on Social Responsibility in Radio and Television.
Globovisión already faces three administrative proceedings by CONATEL and could be shut down temporarily.
IAPA President Enrique Santos Calderón, editor of the Bogotá, Colombia, newspaper El Tiempo, declared, “We are deeply concerned that this authorization to inspect the media will become the legal justification that President Hugo Chávez is looking for to prove that he is right whenever he decides to shut down an information outlet .”
Santos Calderón recalled that the same process of criticism and administrative legal attack was pursued by Chávez beginning in December 2006 against Radio Caracas Televisión, an independent broadcaster that he went on to shut down and whose equipment he ordered seized in May 2007. “There is no doubt that we are seeing a similar strategy at play here to attract supporters and backers to his cause,” the IAPA president added.
Robert Rivard, chairman of the IAPA’s Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information, in a direct reference to Globovisión, stated, “It is extremely important for this and other independent media to exist in this country -- media that will be branded as opponents and enemies of the state because they hold critical and independent views.”
Rivard, editor of the San Antonio Express-News, Texas, said that the current Venezuelan government is moving further and further away from the principles of freedom of the press as defined in the Declaration of Chapultepec, which states that the exercise of this freedom “is not something authorities grant” but is “an inalienable right of the people.”
At its recent biannual meeting in Asunción, Paraguay, the IAPA protested in its report on the state of press freedom in the Americas that in Venezuela, Chavez' verbal threats continued and an increase in official acts against owners of independent news media and individual journalists was registered. The IAPA has long been pointing out that the Venezuelan government is amending and expanding current laws to gain greater control over the country’s news media.