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Education bill threatens press freedom, says IPI

Elements of New Venezuelan Education Law Suspiciously Similar to those in Legislative Proposition Threatening Jail for 'Media Crimes'

IPI Urges National Assembly to Reject Education Bill in its Current Form

(IPI/IFEX) - Vienna, 13 August 2009 - The Venezuelan National Assembly will on Thursday vote on a new law that could further damage press freedom in the country, the International Press Institute (IPI) warns.

The "Draft Law on Education" (Proyecto de Ley Orgánico de Educación), which would replace the current law of 1980, makes the teaching of a "critical and responsible interpretation of the messages of the mass media" compulsory, while extending provisions contained in the existing law in a way that could further infringe on editorial independence.

For example, referring to media responsibility, Article 8 of the new law stipulates that the media must "fulfil informative, formative and recreational functions that contribute to the development of the values and principles established in the Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela and (the Draft Law on Education)," and that media content must be orientated in accordance with this.

Article 50.12 also highlights the obligation of the media to "lend its co-operation to the purposes of education and adjust its programming to achieve the goals and objectives enshrined in the Constitution," while prohibiting the distribution of content that could cause, among other things, "terror in children," incite "hate, aggressiveness" or "indiscipline," "deform language," or "threaten the mental or physical health of the people."

Similar provisions to those expressed in Article 50.12 exist in the current law, although the new legislation stipulates that media organisations breaching these conditions could find their publications or activities suspended immediately.

IPI is concerned that elements of the education bill sound suspiciously similar to parts of a legislative proposition presented by Venezuela's Attorney General on 30 July containing harsh penalties for so-called "media crimes," and introducing a variety of new media offences, each carrying stiff prison sentences. Journalists and broadcasters who "harm the interests of the state," "cause panic" or "disturb social peace" could face a four-year prison term.

"The new education law appears to be, in part, an attempt by the administration of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez to impress upon students its repressive view of media freedom," warned IPI Deputy Director Michael Kudlak.

This latest disturbing signal comes amid a climate of deteriorating press freedom in Venezuela. On 1 August, the country's telecommunications regulator closed down 34 radio broadcasters for allegedly failing to provide ownership paperwork. Hundreds more face the same fate. And in early July independent broadcaster Globovision was attacked by an armed mob of Chavez supporters.

"IPI sees in the new education law elements that closely resemble repressive portions of the recent legislative proposition threatening jail for journalists guilty of so-called 'media crimes,' which include 'causing panic and 'disturbing social peace,'" said IPI Deputy Director Kudlak. "We urge Venezuela's National Assembly not to pass laws that negatively contribute to Venezuela's already regressing media freedom climate."

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