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Venezuela's repeated blocking of Argentinian news outlet amounts to prior censorship

This article was originally published on freemedia.at on 23 October 2014.

Argentine news organisation Grupo Infobae said this week that Venezuelan authorities have blocked access to an online platform the group created to circumvent a similar block on its main website less than two weeks ago.

The group announced that it was setting up a new domain, Infobae.media, in the wake of authorities' decision to block the domain Infobae.press, which it set up after Venezuelan media regulator CONATEL blocked the group's main website, Infobae.com, on Oct. 10 following its publication of photos of the body of a murdered Venezuelan congressman.

International Press Institute (IPI) Press Freedom Manager Barbara Trionfi condemned what she called “new efforts by the Venezuelan Government to silence a publication that offers a broad range of news reports to people in the country”.

She commented: “Venezuela's decision to block Infobae's website appears neither to serve any legitimate interest nor to be necessary to protect such interest. As such, it amounts to prior censorship, which is clearly forbidden by the American Convention on Human Rights that Venezuela has ratified. We urge Venezuela to respect freedom of expression and to end restrictive measures that impede journalists from carrying out their work.”

Infobae in a statement last week pledged to continue creating alternative online platforms, as necessary, to reach Internet users in Venezuela. “There is a possibility that the Venezuelan regime attacks Infobae once again at the www.infobae.press address, but when it does, Infobae will be available through other domains,” the group said.

CONATEL initially blocked Infobae's website “for tarnishing the honour of our young congressman Robert Serra and disrespecting the integrity of his family”, Delcy Rodriguez – who served as Venezuela's minister of communications and information until Oct. 13 – said in a post on Twitter on Oct. 10.

Daniel Hadad, the CEO of Grupo Infobae and a member of IPI's Executive Board, said the blockages were the first time that the group had been censored in any countries in the Americas.

“At this time, we are not sure if this is a temporary or permanent restriction,” he said. “We have not received any type of notification from the government regarding the issue.”

Infobae.com was established as an online news platform in Argentina in 2002, but its audience has grown throughout Latin America and in the United States. It currently receives about 20 million unique visitors a month, seven percent of them coming from Venezuela. Valeria Cavallo, the editorial director of Infobae.com, told IPI that the group employs at least two journalists and three columnists in Venezuela.

Infobae.com is not the first website of an international news media outlet to be blocked in Venezuela. The website for Colombian news outlet NTN24, which provides a live feed of the broadcaster's news programming, was blocked on Sept. 16.

In a statement published on its website, NTN24 said that it similarly received no notification from the Venezuelan government about the blocking of its website. NTN24 was taken off of Venezuelan airwaves on Feb. 11 after it aired reports showing protests that were then wracking the capital city of Caracas.

Carlos Correa, the director of Espacio Publico, a freedom of expression organisation based in Caracas, told IPI that Infobae had no legal method of redress due to the method used to censor the website.

“There is a procedure that the government could have followed through the penal code,” he explained. “A written warning could have been presented. Fines could have been presented, but nothing to that regard took place prior to CONATEL's arbitrary decision to indefinitely block these sites.”

Correa said that the Venezuelan government has blocked a number of other websites in the last 18 months, including Dolar Today, which publishes currency exchange rates as well as information critical of the government.

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