Sign up for weekly updates

IAPA mission expresses deep concern over climate for press

(IAPA/IFEX) - The following is a 20 November 2007 IAPA press release:

IAPA mission stresses deep concern over climate of press freedom in Venezuela

CARACAS, Venezuela (November 20, 2007) - An international mission of the Inter American Press Association (IAPA), following a two-day visit to this South American country, expressed deep concern at the instability of press freedom in general and warned of the limited debate and public awareness surrounding planned constitutional reform, calling for authorities to create an appropriate framework of guarantees and transparency for the December 2 referendum.

The IAPA delegation, headed by the organization's president, Earl Maucker, held meetings and informal talks with various sectors, among them journalists, representatives of news media and press organizations, lawyers, consultants and human rights advocates. The IAPA expressed regret that no member of the three branches of the Venezuelan government and of the National Electoral Council had agreed to meet with the delegation despite numerous contacts made in recent weeks from the IAPA headquarters in Miami, Florida.

"We came to Venezuela with the utmost goodwill to listen to representatives of every sector, but the government's unwillingness to talk about issues of press freedom and free speech, so essential to a democratic society, strengthens our belief that there is no real climate of respect, or the tolerance and political will to hold an open and comprehensive dialogue, especially at a time like this when citizens should have the maximum amount of information available to face a referendum process that implies radical changes in the country's political system," Maucker, editor and senior vice president of the Fort Lauderdale, Florida, newspaper South Florida Sun-Sentinel, declared.

Maucker added, "As we were gathering information we became more and more concerned about a variety of conditions that will weaken civil liberties. There are measures in the constitutional reform that raise a real concern that they will undermine freedom of the press and freedom of expression."

The mission was able to discern a polarization of public opinion, increasingly exacerbated in the country due to a political climate in which confrontation rather than a respectful, plural and diverse dialogue predominates and where, in the short period between National Assembly passage of constitutional reforms and the referendum scheduled for December 2, it has become clear that there has been no attempt to educate the public so that it could weigh the benefits and consequences of the changes in an informed manner.

The delegation minimized the importance of a resolution adopted by the National Assembly that calls on the Venezuelan Executive Branch to declare the presence of the IAPA in the country "non grata". The resolution was dated November 4 and was published as a paid ad in news media outlets on Monday.

"This is one more demonstration of the climate of confrontation and the lack of will to hold the kind of frank and respectful dialogue that implies a true environment of freedom of expression as the backbone of democracy," said Gonzalo Marroquín, chairman of the IAPA's Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information.

The IAPA reaffirmed positions stated in its reports on the state of freedom of the press in Venezuela, which in recent years have criticized and repudiated a government strategy to silence independent news media or those who have not aligned themselves with the policy of government-controlled communication.

Citing specifics, it said that the Contents Law, the reform of the Penal Code, the creation and funding of official propaganda media, the judicial and legal harassment of media and individual journalists, the constant attacks upon journalists, the lack of access to government information, the discrimination in the placement of official advertising, and the constant confrontations with journalists and media were clear signs of that strategy of coercion of freedom of the press.

The IAPA also warned that the closure on May 27 this year of RCTV television, the independent channel with the largest viewing audience at the national level, might be part of an overall strategy to prevent there being greater diversity and plurality of opinions in the current constitutional reform process. It furthermore questioned the official harassment of Globovisión and other independent media, actions that clearly demonstrate a systematic scare tactic designed to cause the media and individual journalists to resort to self-censorship.

The IAPA mission traveled to Caracas, for the 10th time since 1999, under terms of a resolution adopted at the organization's General Assembly in Miami, Florida, last month. The hemispheric free press organization confirmed its intention to hold its next membership meeting in March 2008 in Venezuela.

In addition to Maucker and Marroquín, the delegation is made up of the following people: Enrique Santos, 1st vice president, joint editor of El Tiempo, Bogotá, Colombia; Edward Seaton, former president, editor of The Manhattan Mercury, Manhattan, Kansas; Alejandro Miró Quesada, former president, editor of El Comercio, Lima, Peru; Bruce Brugmann, member of the Executive Committee, editor of the San Francisco Bay Guardian, San Francisco, California; Mark Fitzgerald, member of the Board of Directors, editor at large of Editor & Publisher, New York; Executive Director Julio E. Muñoz, and Press Freedom Director Ricardo Trotti.

Latest Tweet:

Malaysia: @CIJ_Malaysia is concerned over the use of the Sedition Act to arrest individuals for posting comments on…

Get more stories like this

Sign up for our newsletters and get the most important free expression news delivered to your inbox.