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IFJ says Chavez "war on media" is disastrous for democracy

(IFJ/IFEX) - 2 December 2009 - The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) today warned that the continuing "war on media" by President Hugo Chavez and his government was a potential disaster for democracy in the country.

Speaking in Caracas at the end of a two-day visit, IFJ General Secretary Aidan White called on the government to change course and to end its campaign against independent journalism.

White said that there was abundant evidence of a policy to isolate and punish independent voices in media.

"These are dangerous days for journalism in Venezuela," he said. "The government must change course, if not it will be a disaster for democracy in Venezuela." He said numerous physical attacks on reporters, closures of media, targeted court actions and denial of media access to official information had created a dangerous climate for journalists who will be under further pressures in the run-up to national elections next year.

White highlighted the targeting of Globovisión, a television network facing the same fate as the independent network Radio Television Caracas which was forced to close its terrestrial operations two years ago. Earlier this year more than 30 radio stations were closed and a further 200 stations are under threat of closure.

The IFJ also called for the release of journalist Gustavo Azócar, who is in jail in a case which White said was a clear breach of free expression rights. Azócar has been charged over a technical breach of administration rules.

White accused judges of "disproportionate and punitive" action against the journalist who was jailed for entries on his blog. He said there was a danger that bias in court judgements mean "justice in Venezuela is in danger of being delivered according to political interests alone."

The IFJ says that the Chavez campaign of vocal criticism of media and administrative pressure dates from before the attempted coup in 2002 when some media owners appeared to support a bungled attempt to overthrow the government.

At the time, the IFJ carried out a mission to investigate the circumstances. In the report that followed, the IFJ criticised the unprofessionalism of some media, but also criticised Chavez for his violent and confrontational rhetoric and threats to independent media.

"The media have moved on, but the government has maintained its confrontational policies," said White. "The time has come for dialogue and fresh efforts to support pluralism in media."

The IFJ will discuss the Venezuela crisis in a regional meeting of its affiliates to be held in Brasilia this weekend. "We shall remain vigilant and we shall do all we can to support our colleagues in Venezuela in the difficult months ahead," said White.

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