IAPA and IPI mission express deep concern about the serious deterioration of press freedom in Venezuela

CARACAS (September 25, 2002) – The Inter American Press Association (IAPA)
and the International Press Institute (IPI) noted with concern the serious deterioration
of press freedom in Venezuela due to a climate of intimidation and physical attacks
against journalists and media outlets, as well as a legal and judicial system
that threatens the free practice of journalism.

After three days in Venezuela, IPI and IAPA concluded that the deterioration of
press freedom was the result of the inefficiency of the authorities in investigating
and punishing those responsible for crimes against journalists. Both organizations
noted that the different branches of the government had allowed the escalation
of violence against journalists and media.

After listening to numerous complaints from journalists of various media and members
of journalists associations, including threats, intimidation and physical attacks,
as well as cases of legal and judicial harassment and discrimination in the use
of government advertising, IAPA and IPI said that true democracy cannot be fully
established without guarantees for the right to exercise press freedom.

The two organizations were alarmed by the fact that verbal and physical aggression
against journalists originated from groups close to the government, including
the Circulos Bolivarianos (Bolivarian Circles), who echo President Hugo Chavez’s
constant discrediting of the press in his public statements.

The Vienna-based IPI, representing editors, media executives and leading journalists
in 115 countries, and the IAPA, representing more than 1,300 publications in the
Western Hemisphere, said that violence is not the only threat to press freedom
in the country and praised the courage of journalists working for the public’s
right to know.

In meetings with the acting President of the Republic, Jose Vicente Rangel, and
other high authorities of the judiciary and the Congress, IAPA and IPI learnt
that the three branches of government insisted that press freedom is respected
in the country. Both organizations said that administrative measures, judicial
sentences, constitutional clauses and proposals for new legislation that contradict
internationals norms and treaties proved that this conclusion was incorrect.

Among those contradictions, IAPA and IPI said that the president of the Supreme
Court of Justice, Ivan Rincon, has committed not to allow any disposition that
will threaten freedom of the press that could be included in the bill for a Law
of Content, that is being discussed in National Congress, the Court maintained
the Resolution 1013, which defines criteria for “timely, truthful and impartial
information” and goes against the right of property. In addition, both institutions
said that the constitutional clause on truthful information represents a setback
for press freedom and could be used to control journalistic activity. They also
criticized the so-called “zones of exclusion”, set up by the government
to restrict political activities, which take away the people’s right to
be informed and the guarantees for journalists and media to work freely.

Nevertheless, both organizations welcomed vice president Rangel’s commitment
to speed up investigations into press freedom violations and the government’s
acceptance of an IPI proposal for an international commission to investigate the
state of freedom of expression in the country.

In addition to the highest public authorities of the country, IAPA and IPI met
with leaders and representatives of FEDECAMARAS, the chamber of commerce and trade,
the National Federation of Television, National Association of Broadcasting, the
Attorney General’s Office, the Coordinadora Democratica, the organization
of political opposition parties, Bloque de Prensa Venezolano, the national publishers
association, the National Guild of Journalists, the Workers National Union, the
National Conference of Bishops, the President of the Congress, and numerous journalists
representing various media.
The delegation was headed by IAPA President Robert J. Cox, The Post and Courier,
Charleston, South Carolina, and IPI Chairman Jorge E. Fascetto, Diario Popular,
Buenos Aires, Argentina.

IAPA was also represented by first vice president Andrés García
Gamboa, Novedades de Quintana Roo, Cancún, Quintana Roo, Mexico; freedom
of the press committee president Rafael Molina, Ahora, Santo Domingo, Dominican
Republic; Julio E. Muñoz, IAPA executive director, and Ricardo Trotti,
press freedom coordinator.

IPI delegation members were David Greenway, The Boston Globe, Boston, Massachusetts;
Wilfred Kiboro, group chief executive, Nation Media Group, Kenya; Mitja Mersol,
Delo, Slovenia; Norman Webster, The Montreal Gazette, Canada; Johann P. Fritz,
IPI director, and Michael Kudlak, press freedom advisor.

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