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Safety of journalists at risk in Venezuelan post-election clashes

A boy jumps over a barricade of burning garbage that supporters of opposition leader Henrique Capriles used to block a street in Caracas, as they demonstrated for a recount of the votes in the presidential election
A boy jumps over a barricade of burning garbage that supporters of opposition leader Henrique Capriles used to block a street in Caracas, as they demonstrated for a recount of the votes in the presidential election

REUTERS/Tomas Bravo

The opposition's decision to dispute ruling party candidate Nicolás Maduro's very narrow victory in the 14 April 2013 presidential election has heightened concern about the effects of the Venezuelan media's extreme polarization.

The demonstrations that have been held or will soon be held in various parts of the country are reinforcing the already considerable dangers for journalists and freedom of information.

Reporters Without Borders has learned of two incidents during demonstrations held by the opposition yesterday to press for a complete recount of the ballots.

In Caracas, supporters of opposition candidate Henrique Capriles yesterday besieged the buildings that house the Latin American TV news channel TeleSur and the main state-owned TV station, Venezolana de Televisión (VTV). The management of both stations said their staff were threatened and insulted.

At the same time, the Press and Society Institute Venezuela (IPYS-Venezuela) reported that its correspondent, Juan José Faria, and two other employees of the privately-owned local newspaper La Verdad, photographer Eduardo Méndez and driver Yolman Bejarano, were arrested in San Francisco, in the northwestern state of Zulia.

The three men were covering a “cacerolazo” (a neighbourhood protest consisting of banging on pots and pans) called by the opposition, when the police arrested them on a charge of “destabilization”. After confiscating their equipment and mobile phones, the police said they would be held until a preliminary court hearing scheduled for 16 April.

“At a time when each news media and, in particular, each journalist runs the risk of becoming caught in an explosive political situation, we make three urgent recommendations in the wake of those we made before the 14 April election”, Reporters Without Borders said.

Our recommendations:
• That the competent authorities provide equal safety guarantees to all journalists covering demonstrations and counter-demonstrations.
• That the media provide balanced coverage of statements by the leaders and members of the two main political forces.
• That media editors and columnists refrain from exaggeration and distortion, and from mutual accusations that will only increase the danger for their reporters in the field.

“The two main protagonists of this election, President-elect Nicolás Maduro and opposition leader Henrique Capriles, are also asked to act responsibly,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Both have a duty to ensure respect for fundamental constitutional freedoms – safety, the right to free movement and pluralist news and information.”

Reporters Without Borders hopes that its recommendations will be taken by the Organisation of American States, the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) and the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR).

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