The status of freedom of speech and freedom of the press, as well as the legal guarantees for these freedoms, cannot be viewed outside the critical state of the complex institutional and political climate. Since the 1999 passage of the Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, which established so-called truth in reporting and the right to reply, systematic violations have been carried out through government actions against freedom of speech and freedom of the press. There has been no shortage of attacks on private media outlets, their publishers and their journalists. These include attacks on their lives, their physical integrity and their livelihood. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has made itself heard on 12 occasions, as has the Inter-American Court four times since 2001 through the adoption of interim relief measures to protect the rights of more than 19 journalists and ten media outlets. The government, however, has ignored there measures. And with the backing of the Venezuelan Supreme Court, it has claimed that the measures adopted by the Inter-American System for the Protection of Human Rights on behalf of the media are not binding. In Ruling 1042, handed down on December 18, 2003, the Constitutional Division of the Venezuelan Supreme Court declared the validity of “insult laws,” which provide for criminal penalties for journalists who in their writing insult the heads or members of government bodies. The court further ruled that “if an international organization that is legally accepted by the Republic provides protection to someone who violates the human rights of groups or individuals inside Venezuela, this decision shall be rejected even if it is issued by an international human rights organization.” The court’s ruling went on to say the following: “The recommendations of international organizations, particularly those of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights … are not binding … Freedom of speech is not an absolute right of human beings .” The presidential recall referendum was held on August 15 to determine the future of the presidential term of Army Lt. Col. Hugo Chávez Frías. Chávez emerged victorious according to the official figures released by the National Electoral Council, which is controlled by admitted Chávez supporters. César Gaviria, who recently concluded his term as Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS), has said that the Chávez administration now has the right to pursue its political program, provided that it does so in observance of the principles of the Inter-American Democratic Charter. He also cautioned Chávez to “think twice about the risks involved in increasing the number of judges on the Supreme Court.” This refers to an initiative passed by the administration and pro-Chávez members of the National Assembly in order to gain permanent political control of the judiciary. The OAS General Secretary added a final statement, expressing an opinion shared by former President Jimmy Carter —“the administration has been gradually consolidating its control over all government bodies”— and forewarning us about the cause of our deepest concern: In this context, the administration has announced that the so-called Law on Content, or Law on the Social Responsibility of Radio and Television, will be passed. This law is inspired in the infamous Ruling 1013 of the Supreme Court’s Constitutional Division, through which the government seeks to gain control of radio and television media. The Communication and Information Minister has set up a Technical Office to promote this undemocratic legislation. a) In violation of the Constitution, this law will be passed as an ordinary law and not an organic law. Passage of this bill as an organic law, like all human rights laws, requires approval by a special majority of the Parliament. b) This law codifies prior restraint and grants the government the authority to discontinue radio and television programs without judicial review whenever it deems that these programs may threaten public order or national security, and until all relevant disputes have been definitively settled. c) Any program or news containing moderate violence —such as the fall of the Twin Towers in New York or a street confrontation between police and political demonstrators— is banned from 5:00 a.m. until 11:00 p.m. d) No commercial produced outside the country may be broadcast. e) No news that violates the concept of truth and impartiality in reporting may be broadcast. f) Educational programs must be broadcast under government supervision. g) Sixty percent of all programming must be Venezuelan, and 60 percent of this programming, in turn, must be made by independent producers previously authorized by the government. h) Every media outlet and its management will be held jointly responsible for the statements made by any person appearing on a live program. i) Finally, among other restrictions, the government may use 70 minutes per week, at its discretion and on a schedule of its choosing, for its own broadcasts on Venezuelan radio and television stations. Other recent events affecting press freedom: The Minister of Defense, Army Gen. Jorge Luis García Carneiro, accused the Venezuelan media of being enemies of the government and supporting paramilitary armed movements. These accusations were publicly denied by the media industry group Bloque de Prensa Venezolano. Iris Varela, a legislator for the ruling party, proposed that foreign-born journalists who are enemies of the regime be stripped of their citizenship. And Foreign Minister Jesús Pérez accused journalists of sowing hatred and divisions. Meanwhile, the chairman of the National Electoral Board threatened to shut down media outlets that violated electoral regulations during the recent campaign. The case of the newspaper El Universal, attacked once again by the head of state, reveals the regime’s profound contempt for freedom of expression. On September 26, on his weekly radio and television program “Aló Presidente,” Chávez again attacked publisher Andrés Mata and his newspaper because, in his words, Mata “is unpatriotic … and caters to the transnational interests that would like to take over Venezuela.” This was in response to an article in El Universal that, in addition to the announcement by Jorge Rodríguez, a ruling-party member of the electoral council, that he would jail anyone who mentioned electoral fraud, included statements by renowned Venezuelan jurist Tulio Álvarez in reference to a heap of testimony and evidence that call into question the official results of the August 15 presidential recall referendum. In front of the cameras, the chief of state ordered his supporters to bring a trash can to him. He threw a copy of the newspaper into the can, saying that he was relegating it to “the garbage can of history” along with “Mr. Mata” and “all that … he represents.” Acts of judicial terrorism, meanwhile, have increased as a result of the lack of autonomy among judges and their known ties to the government, as has been consistently reported by both the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the General Secretariat of the OAS. These acts have also enjoyed the support provided for attacks and restrictions on free speech by Rulings 1013 and 1942 of the Constitutional Division of the Venezuelan Supreme Court. Typical in this regard are the court cases brought by Army Col. Ángel Alberto Vellorí against journalist Ibéyise Pacheco, who was sentenced to nine months in prison for carrying out her duties as a reporter; by ruling-party legislator Juan Barreto against journalist Miguel Ángel Rodríguez of Radio Caracas Televisión; by Wladimir Villegas, president of the state-owned television station, against journalist Nelson Bocaranda; and by the Armed Forces against journalist Patricia Poleo, accusing her of insulting that institution. In another development, Brig. Gen. Francisco Usón, a retired army officer and former Minister of Finance in the Chávez administration, was recently tried in military court for expressing a technical opinion on a television program hosted by journalist Marta Colomina regarding the use of flamethrowers. There had been public speculation that a deadly fire at Fort Mara, in the city of Maracaibo, may have been caused by use of this weapon against several soldiers detained in the brig. Usón, who was no longer on active duty when he stated his opinion, was sentenced to six years in prison for insulting the Armed Forces. Other attacks were as follows: On the day designated for challenges to the signatures on the presidential recall referendum petitions, Emilio Materán, program director at Voz de Guarenas, was arrested along with other journalists from the television station Televen. Physically assaulted were journalist Marta Palma Troconis and cameraman Joshua Torres of Globovisión; journalist Najhla Paola Isaac and the crew of TVS; and journalist Ivonne Andara Berrío, who was assaulted by a mob of more than a hundred people led by Caracas Mayor Freddy Bernal and by ruling-party congressman Juan Barreto. Attacked by the violent street mobs that support the government were the offices of the newspaper El Nacional, Así es la Noticia, Radio Caracas Televisión, TV Guayana and their journalists, and journalists from Globovisión. Armed, hooded individuals burned a vehicle and television camera of Venevisión in the state of Zulia. On May 11, military intelligence officers assaulted journalist Félix Carmona and photographer Jorge Santos, who work for the newspaper El Universal. Subsequently, military forces arrested reporting teams for the newspaper La Verdad and the television station Globovisión who were covering the issue of the paramilitary forces. On September 4, the bodyguard of journalist Patricia Poleo was tortured and later killed, which led the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to call for interim relief measures. Francisco “Kiko” Bautista, the editor of the newspaper Diario El Mundo, resigned from his post under pressure from the government. In other developments, the Constitutional Division of the Supreme Court ruled on July 27 that mandatory membership in a journalists’ association does not violate the freedom of speech and that it is fully within the powers of the legislature to establish such a requirement. This ruling runs counter to case law at the Inter-American Human Rights Court.