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Journalists assaulted, threatened during demonstrations in Barquisimeto; friction continues between government and RCTV and Globovisión

(IPYS/IFEX) - Several media outlets and journalists were harassed, assaulted and threatened in Barquisimeto while covering confrontations between university student groups supporting or opposing the government's controversial decision to not renew the Radio Caracas Televisión (RCTV) frequency concession. As well, RCTV journalists were denied access to a government press conference in Caracas, and Globovisión journalists were briefly detained.

On 29 May 2007, a group of university students dressed in red t-shirts with the logo of Venezuela's Socialist Party (promoted by President Hugo Chávez) threw rocks and bottles against a vehicle belonging to Promar TV, a station in Lara state, central Venezuela. The vehicle's windshield and body were damaged. The incident took place in Barquisimeto, capital of Lara state, located in central Venezuela. According to one of the station's reporters, Erick Obermaier, the assault took place when he and other journalists were attempting to interview a group of students who were protesting against the non-renewal of RCTV's frequency concession.

In a separate incident, also on 29 May, photographer Ricardo Marapacuto, of the newspaper "El Impulso", was assaulted by a group of demonstrators when he was covering a university students' protest march in favour of RCTV, in Barquisimeto. The reporter attempted to take pictures of the demonstrators; they put on hoods and attacked him again. Marapacuto suffered mild injuries to one leg. A little later, the reporter attempted to photograph a young man who hit a female student. The assailant and his companions attempted to take his camera away. Marapacuto took refuge with the police.

On 31 May, journalist Jaimet Prato and photographer Juan Diego Vilchez of the newspaper "El Impulso" were threatened by a group of students from the Universidad Pedagógica Experimental Libertador (UPEL), who were protesting against a march in support of RCTV that was organized by other students of the same institution, in the town of Barquisimeto. The students threw three teargas canisters onto the second floor of the building where the other demonstrators and the journalists were. Vilchez sprained an ankle as he fled the area. According to Prato, the attackers warned them that if they published the information they would never again be allowed into the university's premises.

Meanwhile, there was friction between the government and reporters from RCTV and Globovisión television stations in Caracas.

On 29 May 2007, the security guards at the Ministry of the Interior and Justice stopped a RCTV crew from attending a press conference organized by Minister Pedro Carreño and Caracas's municipal authorities, who were discussing security measures to be taken in view of all the demonstrations that have taken place in the city during the last few days. The team was made up of journalist Francia Sánchez, camera operator Giovanni Campos and assistant cameraman Raúl Medina.

According to the crew, they were told at first that they could not be allowed in as the conference was only for publicly-owned media outlets, but the journalists verified that this was not true. When they insisted on being allowed in, an unidentified official informed them that from now on RCTV will no longer be allowed into the ministry.

However, the ministry's Press and Public Relations department told IPYS that the minister has issued no orders forbidding RCTV from entering the building. Nevertheless, it also declared that the reporters were not allowed into the ministry because the television station's concession has expired and, therefore, it is presumed to no longer be operating. The spokeswoman, who declined to identify herself, also stated that the ministry has not received any form of communication from RCTV announcing that its journalists are, in fact, still working. In spite of the fact that RCTV stopped broadcasting via an open frequency on 27 May, the station has continued to transmit its news programme via Internet since then.

On 30 May, members of the Military Police detained a team of Globovisión television station reporters for an hour in Caracas. The reporters were leaving the Tiuna Military Fort (Fuerte Militar Tiuna) after covering a meeting between the ministries of defense and science and technology, in which the use of the radio-electric spectrum was debated. According to journalist Delvalle Calderón, the guards asked that the reporters identify themselves. After the reporters did, the guards prevented them from leaving the barracks. The guards only allowed them to leave when Delvalle Calderón got in touch with persons connected to the minister of defense. The Military Police then apologized, stating that they had made a mistake, believing that the reporters had something to do with a vehicle supposedly belonging to RCTV that had been left at the military facility.

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