IAPA issues strong protest at official censorship in Venezuela

MIAMI, Florida (February 13, 2003)—Inter American Press Association (IAPA)
President Andrés García today outrightly condemned a bill for a
Law on Social Responsibility in Radio and Television passed on first reading in
the Venezuela National Assembly as “representing the most blatant censorship
setting the country back to the dark days of Latin America.”

García was speaking here while en route to Geneva, where he will be
participating in coming weeks in the preparatory meeting for the World Summit
on the Information Society. He said that while in Switzerland he planned to
meet with officials of the United Nations, UNESCO, International Telecommunications
Union and other international organizations to express the IAPA’s concern
at what it sees as a serious and accelerating deterioration in freedom of the
press in Venezuela.

The Venezuelan legislators earlier today had given the first reading of the
bill for the Law on Social Responsibility in Radio and Television, known as
the Law on Content, which would empower government officials to rule on the
content of broadcasts by privately-owned media.

García, editor of the newspaper Novedades de Quintana Roo, Cancún,
Mexico, declared that “since 1998 the IAPA has been warning of the threat
to Venezuela of having a government that unfailingly would clamp censorship
on the country by force. With initial passage of the Law on Content what has
happened is the road has been paved for legalization of authoritarianism and
censorship, a concern that we expressed to President Hugo Chávez himself
during a meeting in Washington in 1999 in which he pledged not to violate press
freedom.”

He added, “what is most serious is that the political leaders, legislators
and members of the executive and judicial branches with whom we met during our
missions to Venezuela in February and September last year lied to us, assuring
us that the Law on Content was nothing more than the implementation of a system
for the protection of children.”

García went on to declare that “this law, which we hope will not
get to be enacted, contains utterly harmful elements that imply a total censorship
in which the government may proclaim itself to be the sole owner of the information
that the media may impart.”

The bill, García said, should be reviewed by all those who might be
affected before any final approval, but “nevertheless we are not convinced
of the supposed transparency of the government and Congress to publicly discuss
the bill’s contents, as on repeated occasions such a possibility has been
denied to the IAPA, as well as to the Venezuelan people and news media.”

The law, if enacted, would give the government virtual control over what the
electronic media broadcast, even so far as to regulate morality by applying
its own views about violence, sex, health or the language that the media should
employ. It would also require journalists to reveal their news sources and could
empower the government to suspend broadcasts that it might regard as contravening
the Law on Content.

“It is very clear that the government’s intention is to control
and censor the media, journalists and news, not only because Chávez says
so out loud in his radio programs but because of the large number of coercive
administrative and legal measures, such as Ruling 1013 which limited constitutional
free speech rights and now gives rise to this Law on Content and to the most
bitter violence against journalists,” García declared.

“What we have here is a regime that shows off its censorship, which is
unmatched in the modern history of Latin America in that it violates every precept
and basics of freedom of expression and of the public’s right to know
as set forth in international treaties and doctrines, such as the American Convention
on Human Rights, the Declaration of Principles of Freedom of Expression, and
the Declaration of Chapultepec,” García said.

“We have not the slightest doubt that application of the government’s
so-called administrative actions against the leading privately-owned radio and
television stations are part of a government policy to strangle the news media
that have come out in opposition to his restrictive policies.”

The IAPA president stated that on repeated occasions the hemisphere free-press
organization had issued resolutions repudiating the actions of the Chávez
administration and that in November it had brought before the Coordinating Committee
of Press Freedom Organizations meeting in Vienna, Austria, a resolution warning
of the danger of the bill for the Law on Content to which no one, not even journalists
and the media, much less the Venezuelan people, had access.

While stressing that the IAPA would remain in a state of alert, García
said he was confident that the international organizations championing human
rights and freedom of expression would continue keeping a close watch on events
in Venezuela and would seek a mechanism to prevent the public’s right
to know continuing to be undermined.

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