Profile - Journalism in Venezuela

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Profile - Journalism in Venezuela

Venezuela, a country governed by the ruling party of Hugo Chavez, has had a tumultuous recent history concerning journalist rights and protection. Although fewer journalists have been murdered in Venezuela than in other repressive states, they nonetheless have often been attacked and threatened. Freedom of expression has since been hindered and private media has frequently been shut down by the state. According to CPJ, in 2009 alone, 34 private radio and television stations were closed due to state interference.
 
Although freedom of speech and the press are constitutionally guaranteed in Venezuela, the Law of Social Responsibility in Radio and Television, passed in 2004, contains ambiguously worded provisions that have been used to restrict these freedoms, which is a serious threat to Venezuelan journalism. Criticism of the government is often equated with “conspiracy against the state” and has resulted in high fines, numerous arrests, and lengthy jail sentences. Defaming or criticizing the President, for instance, is punished by six to 30 months in prison. Guillermo Zuloaga, owner of television station Globovisión, which is critical of the government, was arrested on March 25, 2010 after publicly condemning government involvement in the limiting of freedom of expression. In addition to six to 30 months in prison, Zuloaga faces another two to five years in prison for “inciting collective panic by means of false information through the press.” Arrests like Zuloaga’s inspire fear of offending the government, and this has led to a proliferation of self-censorship in Venezuela.
           
Violent attacks against reporters, especially those covering protests, occur fairly often in Venezuela, though the number of murders is relatively low as noted above. In January, journalist José Gregorio Adames and his camera operator, Dixon Coronado, were attacked while interviewing students at a protest. In March, journalist Rolando Hurtado was allegedly chased and beaten by about 20 men on motorbikes, who he claimed are linked to the government, after covering a street protest against a new government regulation. TV News Chief Carlos Roca was kidnapped in early March. In April 2010, two photojournalists were injured by riot police while covering a protest. These frequent attacks make journalism a risky and dangerous profession.  
 
According to CPJ, five journalists have been murdered since 1992. In 2010, Orel Sambrano of ABC de la Semana and Radio América was killed. A man has since been arrested in connection with the murder. However, for most of the other murders of journalists in Venezuela, impunity has been the norm. In 2006, Jorge Aguirre of El Mundo was killed, but no one has yet been arrested or tried for his death. Neither has anyone been held accountable for the earlier murders of Jorge Ibraín Tortoza Cruz, María Veronica Tessari, or Virgilio Fernández. This trend of impunity and unsolved murders is a serious problem and threat to Venezuelan journalists.
           
Restrictions on freedom of expression, threats of attack, and impunity are thus issues that make the protection of journalists in Venezuela extremely pressing and have led to the creation of local organizations to assist Venezuelan media. These include Instituto Prensa y Sociedad - Venezuela, which maintains a national network of correspondents to monitor and report on freedom of expression and freedom of press violations in the nation, and the National Journalists' Guild, which promotes democratic values, such as freedom of speech and information by monitoring violations of the Law on the Practice of Journalism, advocating for better policy to protect journalism, and by providing professional development training.
           
The above article is based on the following articles on Venezuelan media: