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IAPA condemns ratification of multi-million-dollar fine against Globovisión

(IAPA/IFEX) - MIAMI, Florida, March 7, 2012 - The Inter American Press Association (IAPA) today strongly condemned the ratification by Venezuela's Supreme Court of a fine ordered to be paid by television news channel Globovisión, calling the rejection of its appeal “a reprisal and censorship of freedom of information.”
The Court rejected the appeal filed by Globovisión against a fine equivalent to US$2.18 million imposed by Conatel, Venezuela's telecommunications regulatory agency, for alleged violation of laws committed during its coverage of a prison riot in June last year.

Conatel claimed that Globovisión had engaged in “an apology of crime, disturbing public order and causing people to become anxious.” The news channel says that the fine is unpayable and that it never broke the law, restricting itself to reporting on the riot at the El Rodeo prison, which lasted nearly a month and in which soldiers clashed with armed inmates, resulting in deaths and injuries on both sides.

The chairman of the IAPA's Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information, Gustavo Mohme, expressed concern at the ruling, declaring, “The disproportionate fine is open censorship of freedom of information, in that it puts at risk the ability of such an important channel to operate, and it carries with it the risk of preventing the press from doing its work for fear of reprisals, thus creating self-censorship.”

Mohme, editor of the Lima, Peru, newspaper La República, added, “In this presidential election period that Venezuela is going through the government really needs to strengthen the independence of the news media, producing through them a democratic debate that would make the country's institutions more robust." Globovisión is an independent television channel. Its president and owner, Guillermo Zuloaga, left the country in 2010 “in the face of executive, political and legal persecution.”

The channel's lawyer anticipated that there were actions remaining to be resolved in the First Court of Administrative Litigation, such as another appeal, meaning that the fine was not yet enforceable.

The IAPA also expressed concern and said it would remain on the alert regarding threats that were made public by a columnist with the Caracas newspaper El Universal, Nelson Bocaranda Sardi. In his daily column titled “Runrunes” (Murmurs) he denounced a government plan to discredit him in state-owned media and said he was in possession of information that this plan “would include a kidnapping and the subsequent appearance of the 'drugged person' in a hotel after taking photographs of me for a vulgar montage with which they intend to damage my credibility.”

The IAPA was also concerned by reports of violence unleashed against a team from the TV channel and called for a prompt investigation into the incident so as to determine who was responsible. On Sunday, Globovisión reporters who were covering a political march by the Venezuelan opposition that was shot at, causing injuries, were threatened and had their cameras, microphones and tapes with images of the shooting seized. They said that their attackers wore red shirts – which are associated with members of the governing party.

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