57th General Assembly Washington, DC October 12 – 16, 2001 VENEZUELA There has been no open, prior censorship or closing of media outlets by the government since our last report. Nevertheless, blatant pressure for self-censorship has been exerted by the government, the courts and widespread hostility to publishers and the media, in flagrant violation of Article 58 of Venezuela’s constitution and international human rights agreements. The most serious instance of the constant threats and abuse targeting publishers and the print media was the Supreme Court ruling in the amparo proceeding for constitutional relief in relation to the right of reply, filed by journalist Elías Santana, docket no. 1013. The ruling sharply curtails such constitutional rights by unconscionably discriminating in the exercise of freedom of expression and the right of reply, clearly making a dead letter of Article 58. The Venezuelan Press Block was joined by the National Colegio of Journalists, the National Union of Press Workers and civil society in general in a national reaction of angry public protest against an unappealable decision favoring the president’s policy and his joint radio/television broadcasts. The constitutional violations are so blatant, and the decision is so detrimental to the right of freedom of expression, that the Venezuelan Press Block decided to file its complaint with the OAS’s Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. The proceeding is still pending, and a hearing has been granted for mid-November. The conclusions of law section articulates a threat against anyone who opposes the ruling, thus instilling such a clear and present fear with a chilling effect on publishing and free communication by the owners, publishers and editors of newspapers, that there can be no doubt as to its unacceptability. The Supreme Court ruling sets a clearly discriminatory precedent in denying the right of reply and correction, as demanded by Santana, to journalists when the inaccurate or offensive statement appeared in a communication outlet other than their own. The same restriction will apply to the communication outlets themselves and their reporters or columnists. The sole purpose of the Supreme Court ruling is to prevent Santana from exercising his right to reply on the president’s broadcasts carried on Venezuela’s radio and television stations, making it even more clearly biased toward the executive branch and against the average citizen. Thus, by granting the president the privilege of not honoring the right of reply on the official media outlets he uses for his programs, while making it mandatory for the private press to do so, the Supreme Court’s ridiculous decision lays bare the hidden purpose of this right for autocracies, which is censorship and tampering. The ruling violates the principle of privilege and a number of provisions of the Pact of San José relating to the separation between the freedom of thought and expression, and the right to impart information and reply. These are sufficient grounds to establish the unconstitutionality of the ruling, which also violates international agreements and conventions. But as a Supreme Court decision, reconsideration or appeal within Venezuela are barred. Indeed, the ruling states that “decisions of the various divisions of this Court are not subject to review by international institutions.” There can be no denying that the president has threatened publishers, editors and the print media, since those threats have been, and are being, broadcast on both radio and television. The intimidation is extreme, heaping name-calling and even baseless accusations on top of fines and imprisonment. The president also threatened to revoke a nationwide news station’s government-granted broadcast license, if the station continued its policy of generally unbiased reporting. Not stopping at mere threats, the president has called for widespread antagonism of certain publications, media outlets, owners or publishers, condemning them in his broadcasts for omissions, for not covering speeches by members of his administration or for how his statements are handled.