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Venezuelan presidential candidates urged to commit to media pluralism

Mr. Nicolás Maduro,
acting president of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela
Ms. María Josefina Bolívar
Ms. Reina Sequera
Mr. Henrique Capriles
Mr. Eusebio Méndez
Mr. Julio Mora
Mr. Fredy Tabarquino
(Candidates for the 14 April presidential elections)

Dear Candidates,

With the campaign for the 14 April presidential election officially starting today, Reporters Without Borders would like to submit recommendations to you, the candidates, for fostering pluralism and freedom of information. Enshrined in article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, freedom of information encourages political, economic and social progress.

The 14 April election does not just entail a choice between different political programmes. It also needs an in-depth public debate with equal airtime and respect for contrary opinions, which every candidate should guarantee. It is time to leave behind the polarization, with constant insults and vilification, that has dominated the media landscape for so long.

This requires a commitment from the media to act responsibly. At the same time, they should be able to operate within an appropriate legal framework, one that is applied impartially.

Safety of all journalists guaranteed

Article 46 of the 1999 Bolivarian Constitution rightly says that “every person has the right to respect for their physical, psychological and moral integrity.” This principle cannot be reconciled with a situation in which journalists, columnists and bloggers are exposed to public condemnation and attacks because the media they work for are identified with this or that political camp, especially during an election campaign.

Since 15 March, outspoken critics of the Bolivarian government have complained of a campaign of hate-mongering and insults on social networks. At the same time, this campaign does not excuse the similar insults and attacks against journalists who work for state-owned broadcast media. Polarization, and the resulting lack of solidarity among employees of different media, has dramatically undermined journalists' safety.

Each candidate's campaign managers must ensure that their activists and supporters do not threaten or attack journalists from any media engaged in campaign coverage. We also urge the winning candidate to establish, in coordination with journalists' unions and organizations, a single court to investigate and punish all election-related attacks on freedom of information.

Need for legislative reform

Reporters Without Borders hopes that, both during the campaign and after the polling, there will be no more exploitation of the media and Internet for the purpose of propaganda at the expense of a fair and open debate about political programmes and ideas.

In particular, Reporters Without Borders calls for strict regulation of the official broadcasts known as “cadenas,” both in their content and duration. Given that the media, especially the state-owned media, are supposed to provide a “public service,” the “cadenas” should, during the campaign, take the form of spots for each of the seven presidential candidates that are of the same length and are broadcast the same number of times.

Used until now for long speeches that all over-the-air broadcast media are required to carry at short notice, the “cadenas” have become a form of censorship and an additional factor in Venezuela's “media war.” Only Venezolana de Televisión (VTV), the main state-owned TV channel, should have to broadcast them in their current form.

Reform of the “cadenas” would have to be accompanied by a complete overhaul of media regulation, which is inappropriate and is implemented unfairly. Will Venezuela follow Uruguay and Argentina and become the next South American country to decriminalize defamation and insult? It is unfortunately so far the only one to have done the opposite and increase the jail terms for defamation and insult in its latest criminal law reform, in 2005, running counter to the South American trend.

There is an even greater need to overhaul the Radio and TV Social Responsibility Law, known as the Resorte Law, article 10 of which imposes the “cadenas.” Adopted in 2004 and extended to the Internet in 2010, it contains provisions on “inciting or defending criminal activity,” “spreading panic among citizens,” “disturbing public order” and “discrediting the lawfully constituted authorities” that facilitate censorship and encourage self-censorship.

These loosely-worded provisions for suspending media are open to extremely broad and subjective interpretation and have been turned into weapons for targeting media critical of the government.

For pluralism's sake, Reporters Without Borders is of the view that a thorough overhaul of the Resorte Law should be accompanied by a complete review of broadcast frequency allocation so that, as in other South American countries, there is equal provision for the three kinds of broadcast media – state-owned, privately-owned and community – while guaranteeing their independence.

Need to preserve the Inter-American human rights system

There is one more important undertaking that we think you should consider. At the latest Organization of American States general assembly on 22 March, Venezuela and three other countries – Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua – were thwarted in their attempt to cut back the prerogatives of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), especially its funding and legal powers.

This reform of the IACHR's “functioning” was widely criticized by Latin American civil society organizations because it would have jeopardized the future of the Inter-American human rights system and its leading guarantor, the OAS Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression.

While we welcome the resolution adopted by 35 member states on 22 March preserving the existing system, it leaves open the possibility of eventually changing this fundamental mechanism for protecting citizens who are at loggerheads with their governments. If elected, would you refrain from supporting a “reform” whose real political objective it so undermine the Inter-American human rights system and its Special Rapporteur?

We thank you in advance for the attention you give to this letter and we undertake to publish any substantive responses to its various points that we receive from you.


Christophe Deloire
Reporters Without Borders secretary-general

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