IAPA Midyear Meeting 2016
Punta Cana, Dominican Republic
April 8-11

This latest period has seen the continued institutional deterioration of the state ignoring democratic institutions and the newly elected democratic parliament in the country, which prevents the free exercise of journalism.

The independent media are being strangled by policies that restrict the free circulation of information. These policies range from indirect censorship aimed at hindering access to newsprint and other essential supplies for the print media, to court orders issued against owners and executives of print, radio and online media outlets.

The government's only response has been to increase spending on propaganda and counterpropaganda, as well as spying on and intimidation of its political opponents. In some cases, the government has ruled its opponents ineligible for public office or forced them into exile through arbitrary court orders.

A significant development in the first three months of this year has been the case of El Carabobeño, a newspaper in Valencia, state of Carabobo, which had circulated without interruption from its founding in 1933 until March 17, 2016, when it ceased printing due to a complete lack of newsprint. The paper's representatives were unable to reach an agreement with Corporación Maneiro, the state-owned entity that holds a monopoly over newsprint.

El Impulso, for long the leading newspaper of Barquisimeto and the oldest daily in the country, having been founded in 1904, announced that it will cease circulation within one month because it lacks access to government-controlled newsprint. Another important case is that of the Caracas newspaper El Nacional, to which Corporación Maneiro has consistently refused to sell newsprint. On December 9, while holding a copy of El Nacional in his hands, President Maduro attempted to turn the people against the newspaper: "The Venezuelan people should declare a boycott against El Nacional, and no one should buy it ever again."

Some 80 newspapers in Venezuela face the prospect of having to halt their presses in the near future. The newspapers La Costa and La Mañana in the state of Falcón also ceased circulation.

The state-owned Corporación Alfredo Maneiro was established to exert a monopoly over the supply of newsprint and to take the place of the longstanding import companies that stopped receiving foreign currency two years ago.

Tinedo Guía, president of the National Journalists Association (CNP), said on March 17: "Corporación Maneiro exerts a monopoly as a government agency. It does not make a profit or serve any useful purpose, but the government uses it to withhold rolls of newsprint. It is a tool of censorship aimed at getting the media to bow down to its lies."

It seems that the only newspapers that will survive are those controlled by the government.

Another cause for concern is the conviction and sentence handed down against David Natera Febres, editor of Correo del Caroní in Ciudad Guayana, state of Bolívar. Natera was sentenced to four years in prison for the crime of "defamation and insult." The newspaper published a series of investigative reports on egregious acts of corruption in the state-owned mining company Ferrominera, the country's leading processor of iron. The court's action has been condemned by the National Assembly's Media Committee, press unions and international organizations, including the IAPA, which described this development as "a heavy-handed curbing of press freedom and of society's right to be informed in matters of public interest."

In the December 6 elections, the opposition coalition known as the Democratic Unity Roundtable scored a victory over the ruling party, gaining a qualified majority in the National Assembly. As of January 5, the opposition holds two-thirds of the seats and the leadership positions of chair, vice chair, and secretary. As a result, the ruling party lost control of ANTV.

In response, those responsible for the "media hegemony" promoted and exercised by the government—ever since concessions were withdrawn from numerous radio stations and important, traditionally independent media outlets were purchased through third parties—ordered the violent raid of ANTV's studios to remove its broadcasting equiment and destroy its facilities. Immediately thereafter, 164 ANTV employees were fired and now find themselves in limbo due to the illegal nature of this action.

The Venezuelan government still has not complied with the ruling of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights that ordered it to restore the signal of Radio Caracas Televisión and return the broadcasting equipment that it confiscated in 2007, when the network's concession was not renewed under direct order from Hugo Chávez Frías. The Venezuelan Supreme Court, at the administration's bidding, declared the ruling "unenforceable"despite the government participated in all stages of the process effected before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights On September 10, the Venezuelan Supreme Court declared unenforceable the September 7 ruling of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, which ordered the Venezuelan government to restore Channel 2 to the broadcasting network Radio Caracas Televisión (RCTV).

The Supreme Court held that the Inter-American Court lacks the authority to rule on the RCTV case because not all legal recourse within Venezuela had been exhausted.

Diosdado Cabello, then-chairman of the National Assembly, stated that the government would ignore the ruling of the Inter-American Court. "We are free and sovereign, as we decided to be years ago," Cabello said. "So call [OAS Secretary General] Almagro and tell him to put it in the file, because it has no legal, ethical or moral value."

The Inter-American Court's ruling on Granier et al. v. Venezuela, issued on June 22, 2015, ordered the government to restore the license for the Channel 2 frequency used by RCTV for its broadcasts; return the tangible assets that had been seized; pay compensation for pecuniary and non-pecuniary damage; reimburse court costs and expenses; conduct transparent processes for the allocation of frequencies; and issue a report, within one year, on the steps taken to comply with the ruling.

According to the Inter-American Court, the violation of freedom of expression perpetrated by the administration of President Hugo Chávez and continued by his successor, Nicolás Maduro, undermined the rights of the network's employees and management, as well as those of the public, "which was deprived of access to the editorial line that RCTV represents," in view of the fact that "plurality in the media and the news constitutes an effective safeguard of freedom of expression." The decision not to renew the network's license "was aimed at silencing voices critical of the government," the Court held.

The RCTV case dates from May 27, 2007, when the government, acting on direct orders from President Chávez, shut down the broadcasting network and confiscated its 48 repeater stations and broadcasting equipment.

Court orders issued against executives and owners of El Nacional, Tal Cual and the online news site La Patilla continue to take their course, forcing some of them into exile and ordering others to stay in the country. These court orders stem from a complaint brought by Diosdado Cabello, a legislator and former chairman of the National Assembly, over these media outlets' reproduction of a news item from the Spanish newspaper ABC that identified Cabello as a prominent international drug trafficker and leader of the "Soles Cartel," so named because it consists of high-ranking military officers.

At least 80 publications around the world reproduced the ABC story, which carried the byline of Emili Blasco, the newspaper's correspondent in Washington. Blasco's source was a former official in the presidential security team, Lt. Cmdr. Leamsy Salazar, who is now in the witness protection program of the United States.

On January 6, after the new National Assembly was sworn in, Maduro publicly lambasted the Globovisión and Televen networks for having covered this news story: "They are out of control. You all see what Televen is like ... you watch Globovisión and you think that it's April 9, 2002." This date refers to the time when then-President Hugo Chávez Frías briefly vacated power after a massive antigovernment demonstration that was put down at a cost of human lives; this situation was viewed by some as a power vacuum, by others as a coup d'état, and by others as both.

On March 18, while speaking on a radio program called "Con el mazo dando" on the state-owned Venezolana de Televisión, Cabello levied the following accusation: "The media, Televen, Globovisión and Venevisión are involved once again in a coup d'état."

Among the international media, the Colombian television network NTN24 has been removed from the lineups of subscription-based television providers on orders from the national government, and its website has been blocked by the National Telecommunications Commission (Conatel).

Several Web sites are the object of coercion through actions on the part of the government, not only the already mentioned case of La patilla, concerning which its owner, Alberto Federico Ravell, faces a court hearing that prevents him from returning to the country freely. There is also the case of the portal Dólar Today, subject to a lawsuit filed by Venezuelan Central Bank (BCV) lawyers in Delaware Court in the United States. The charge accuses the said portal of "cyber terrorism" and "harm to the BCV" in publishing on a daily basis foreign currency quotes in the black market. The court dismissed the suit on February 26 but "without prejudice" thus giving an opportunity to the plaintiff to amend the accusatory document, so the case "continues alive."

The assaults and acts of intimidation against journalists in connection with their work have not only continued, but have become so frequent that they can no longer be described as isolated incidents. The National Journalists Association in Táchira condemned the arbitrary arrest of four of its members—Fabiola Niño, Manuel Cardozo, René Méndez and Rafael Urdaneta—while they were covering protests in the city of San Cristóbal. A group of unidentified individuals attacked a vehicle of the newspaper La Nación that was taking company employees to their homes.

Other episodes of violence against journalists from private media outlets have taken place in various cities during the protests over shortages and the collapse of public services.

On March 28, an incident occurred at a police checkpoint in El Marite, state of Zulia, when a group of criminals clashed with police. Journalists Faviana Delgado and Humberto Matheus of Versión Final, José Antonio González and María Fuenmayor of La Verdad newspaper, and Ángel Romero and José López of Noticia al Día were detained and assaulted, their equipment was confiscated, and the contents of their memory devices were erased.

Despite international demands and statements, the Maduro administration continues an egregious policy of hindering freedom of expression and press freedom, and of disregard for human rights.