69th General Assembly

Denver, Colorado

October 18 – 22, 2013

In this period there have been events that are worsening – and will worsen – the state of press freedom both due to attacks on news media and journalists and restrictions on foreign currency for the importation of products for newspaper production, as well as the creation of official censorship entities, the withdrawal by the government from the Inter-American Human Rights System from September 10 and the call by President Nicolás Maduro to the National Assembly for a law empowering him to legislate for 12 months with the aim of attacking corruption and solving the country’s economic plight. In these past six months in addition there were several transfers of property and the buying-and-selling of news media, both national and regional, and while most of them have not changed their editorial policies very much the effect has been felt by their audiences. An emblematic case is that of Globovisión, where several news and opinion programs were withdrawn. In state-owned media programming programs that had a big audience also ceased to be broadcast. In this period there was noted also a growing wave of lawsuits and legal proceedings against privately-owned news media, which have been characterized by various organizations as severe attacks on freedom of expression. On August 1 journalist Leocenis García, publisher of the 6to Poder group, was charged and jailed, accused by the chairman of the National Assembly’s Media Committee, Julio Chávez, of alleged money-laundering. Already prior to that both his and the newspaper’s bank accounts had been frozen. On August 5 as a result of this the newspaper’s editor, Alberto Rodríguez, announced the formal shutdown of the company. García remains behind bars at the Military Intelligence Headquarters. On August 8 the newspapers El Nacional and Tal Cual were fined 1% of their 2009 revenue for publishing and copying, respectively, a picture of the deplorable state of the Bello Monte morgue in Caracas. The court ruled that El Nacional will not be able to publish images with violent content, of weapons, assaults, or bloody and naked bodies. Several days earlier (July 27) surprisingly the judiciary at the request of the Attorney General agreed to prohibit the transfer of assets, encumbrance and freezing of the personal bank accounts of El Nacional editor Miguel Henrique Otero. The Bolívar state court prohibited the newspaper Correo del Caroní and its editor and publisher, David Natera Febres, from publishing reports about the mining business owner Yamal Mustafá because of “defamation and libel” and “damages and losses”; meanwhile he must pay a fine of 20 million bolivars. The court gave the go-ahead to the garnishment of the Correo del Caroní and David Natera and set collateral of 46 million bolivars. On October 10 the Venezuelan Attorney General’s Office ordered an investigation to be begun into the newspaper 2001 “for creating anxiety among society” regarding the supply of gasoline in the country. It explained that it will apply “strong sanctions” against the paper for having published on its front page a “false headline” which in its judgment sought to destabilize national peace. Researchers Marcelino Bisbal and Andrés Cañizález coincide in that control of news media is measured not only by the number of them in government hands. The application of administrative, judicial and economic measures amounts to a mechanism of domination. The two said that the government’s communication policy is to suppress criticism through legal and financial proceedings. Several laws and other legal actions taken by the executive branch of government have been made “to give rise to mechanisms of self-censorship and intimidation, both in the media and in their journalists.” The Venezuelan Press and Society Institute (IPYS) published another study that agrees with what the two researchers said. The text also refers to the newspaper La Mañana in Falcón state, which has complained of censorship of certain content by legal authorities. In addition the IPYS cited actions against journalists Horacio Contreras, announcer and director of Studio 102.7 FM radio, and Leonardo León, an announcer with ULA 107.7 FM and correspondent in Mérida of the newspaper El Nacional, accused of defamation, and the summons to a court of reporter and announcer Nelson Bocaranda. The IAPA has called on the government for the immediate release of Víctor Manuel García Hidalgo, editor and publisher of the news portal “Informe Cifras,” in jail since March. He is being held at the Yare III prison for persons facing charges of common crimes. A serious problem for newspapers is the lack of foreign currency to acquire newsprint, ink and other supplies such as spare parts, equipment and machinery. In August five regional papers stopped circulating for lack of newsprint. In the interior there are more than 40 newspapers affected and 25 say they are in a tight spot. This has led the smallest ones to be left with only online editions, to reduce the number of pages or circulation, and even to come out only every other day. Due to foreign exchange control (since 2003) there has been a reduction in the purchase by importers of newsprint and other pressroom supplies, such as printing plates and ink. Belkys Blomdell, editor of the Nueva Esparta newspaper El Caribazo, said that her paper, which has a run of 15,000 to 25,000 copies, “slimmed down” from 32 to 16 pages in the last year. The same thing is happening with the newspaper Los Llanos, which went from 28 pages to 20. Also pro-government papers, such as Vea, say they facing the same problems. They are asking for a speed-up in the procedures and that a newsprint factory be set up in the country. With effect from October 1 the Lara state newspaper El Impulso, one of the country’s oldest, began to issue a reduced edition. It is now also being printed without color. It reported that it has been purchasing at onerous prices supplies available in the country, describing as “a Calvary” having to gather resources to keep up its circulation. Forced by the lack of newsprint, printing plates and other costly and at this time difficult to import supplies Antorcha, the paper with the largest circulation in Anzoátegui state, announced its temporary shutdown after 59 years of existence. Other newspapers that have ceased publication are: El Sol de Maturín, inMonagas state; Versión Final, in Zulia; El Caribazo, La Hora and El Caribe in Nueva Esparta; Los Llanos and El Espacio in Barinas. In recent days owners of regional newspapers were invited in by the National Assembly’s News Media Committee to address problems, among them the lack of newsprint. El Nacional editor and publisher Miguel Henrique Otero complained of the National Assembly having approved in recent days payment of multi-million amounts to pro-government media for the purchase of newsprint. He said, “The irony is that the National Assembly last week passed a multi-million amount (of foreign currency) for some pro-government newspapers, which really belong to the government. That money is to directly import newsprint for those newspapers that are absolutely pro-government.” On October 7 the government created the Strategic Center of Security and Protection of the Fatherland (Cesspa), which implies that it will be able to declare as confidential, classified or of limited dissemination any information, event or circumstance that it regards as strategic to preserve national security and prevent and neutralize potential threats from internal or external enemies. Article 3 states that the new body “shall request, organize, integrate and evaluate information of interest for the strategic level of the nation, connected to internal or external enemy activity coming from all the security and intelligence bodies of the state and other public and private entities, as required by the Political-Military Directorate of the Bolivarian Revolution.” The decree is almost identical to the one published in the Official Gazette on June 1, 2010, through which was created the Center for Situational Study of the Nation (Cesna). The “whereas” clauses of both decrees are the same and the differences in the articles are limited to the assignment of the body to the Presidential Office’s Ministry of Government Monitoring (instead of the Domestic Relations and Justice Ministry to which the Cesna had been assigned) and the incorporation of terms such as destabilization and internal and external enemies. The ninth article establishes the possibility of censorship in the same terms. The non-observance of constitutional guarantees for the exercise of freedom of expression and the right to information was the basis of a challenge of the Cesna before the Supreme Court by the National Journalists Guild, National Press Workers Union and the NGO Espacio Público. In the challenge it was argued that Article 57 of the Constitution prevents censorship by public officials so that they inform on matters under their responsibility. And Article 143 establishes that restrictions on information for reasons of national security must be expressly defined in a formal law emanating from the National Assembly, which does not exist; so that a decree law dictated through special powers granted to the head of state would not be sufficient. Relevant developments in this period: On March 8 the foreign press protested at attacks on Andrea Rengifó, correspondent of RCN television of Colombia. On March 22 El Universal cartoonist Rayma Suprani filed a formal complaint with the Attorney General’s Office of having been the object of threats. On April 2 the National Telecommunications Commission (Conatel) opened what is known as administrative penalizing proceedings against Globovisión “for alleged interference in a speech” made by President-elect Nicolás Maduro in a radio and television hookup. On April 6 Globovisión cameraman Héctor Sánchez complained of violence as he was covering an event and had to flee the place for fear of being beaten up. On April 16 President-elect Maduro called on news media to define “who they are with” in alluding to his political project “peace or progress” or the one headed by Henrique Capriles. On April 16 officers of the San Francisco police in Zulia state detained a group of reporters from the newspaper La Verdad who were covering a protest by voters banging pots in demand for a recount of votes in the presidential election. On April 17 150 motorcyclists wearing red t-shirts hurled a Molotov cocktail at the offices of La Región and shouted slogans in support of the government. Armed groups threatened to set the journalists alight. On April 23 Miguel Henrique Otero denounced another attempt to invade El Nacional at its headquarters in the El Silencio district of Caracas. On May 2 the NGO Espacio Público, the National Journalists Guild (CNP), the National Press Workers Union (SNTP) and the Graphics Reporters Circcle reported 248 denunciations of violations of press freedom in Venezuela during 2012. On May 9 the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights sent to the Inter-American Human Rights Court the case concerning Venezuelan television channel Radio Caracas Televisión (RCTV). On May 9 member of Congress Edgar Zambrano proposed to his government-supporting colleagues amendment of the Interior and Debates Regulation to restore access by news media to the National Assembly chamber. On May 15 President Maduro harshly criticized El Universal and its owner for making “a banquet of death” concerning the problem of lack of security. He labeled the paper’s front page today as “disgusting” and ordered Communication and Information Minister Ernesto Villegas to call him to a meeting. On May 19 news media belonging to the Bolivarian Communication and Information System (Sibci) had to be prepared to face a “media war,” Communication and Information Minister Ernesto Villegas declared. On May 20 President Maduro met with the board of directors of the privately-owned television channel Venevisión, chaired by businessman Gustavo Cisneros, in an attempt to “change” the television model in Venezuela. On May 24 the chairman of the National Assembly Media Committee, Julio Chávez (of the Psuv party in Lara), said that only Antv television could broadcast congressional sessions, so as to prevent legislative activity “being overwhelmed by sensationalism, yellow journalism and hardly ethical or serious journalism.” On May 27 an explosive device was hurled at the headquarters of Panorama from a moving vehicle, but it nobody was hurt and there was no damage. The incident occurred at 8:40 a.m. On May 28 the IAPA condemned the attack on the Panomara offices. On May 28 Rafael Poleo was arrested in Italy. The journalist said it was part of a persecution. On May 29 the board of directors of Atel TV called on Conatel to restore its signal. On May 31 a protest is made against censorship imposed by National Electoral Council (CNE) President Tibisay Lucena on El Universal reporter Eugenio Martínez. On June 28 President Maduro said that the Venezuelan right had destroyed the practice of journalism through lying and manipulation by not telling the truth nor being objective. On July 4 the Attorney General’s Office accused journalist Nelson Bocaranda of having engaged in violent acts on April 14 On July 11 The Constitutional Court declared as inadmissible an appeal for annulment of Article 192 of the Telecommunications Organic Law by Marcel Granier, Oswaldo Quintana C. and the broadcast company RCTV C.A. On July 22 Reporter Juan José Farías of the newspaper La Verdad in Zulia state formally complained to the Public Prosecutor’s Office of repeated threats made to him while doing his work by security agencies and organized gangs operating in the region. On July 26 investigation of Leocenis García for alleged tax avoidance, fraud and money laundering is requested. On July 27 Attorney General Luisa Ortega Díaz requested the freezing of assets of Miguel Henrique Otero and an order for the arrest of journalist Alfredo Peña. On August 2 Leocenis García of the 6to Poder editorial group was arrested and held at a military base on a charge of money laundering. On August 16 President Maduro complained of an “operation of public manipulation.” “The bourgeois press covers up corruption.” On August 20 Globovisión launched new programming following the departure of renowned journalist Leopoldo Castillo, who for 12 years had hosted “Aló Cuidadano” (Hello, Citizen), an emblematic program of the channel which used to confront the government. On August 29 the regional channel Global TV was surprisingly shut down by the paid-for television operators. On September 4 the Maracaibo-based newspaper Versión Final was acquired by new owners from Zulia state. On September 19 the IAPA repeated to the Venezuelan government its request for legal guarantees and due process for journalist and publisher Leocenis García, who has been held at a military base since he was arrested on July 30. On September 25 President Maduro declared that to purchase the newspaper El Nacional “is like buying muriatic acid and having breakfast with it every day.” On September 30 President Maduro asked his country’s legislative branch of government and Attorney General’s Office to look into “special measures” granting the executive branch powers to “punish this psychological war that the written press, television and radio are waging” through the reports they disseminate about food shortages in Venezuela.