Chavez moves to restrict media — again

Last week a Venezuelan court banned print media from publishing violent images. The court ordered all Venezuelan media to stop publishing “images, reports and publicity of any type that contain blood, guns, terrifying messages or physical attacks, images that incorporate warfare content and messages about killings and deaths that could upset the psychological well-being of children and adolescents.”  Officially the move is to protect children from harmful images. What really appears behind the move, however, is censoring items that are critical of the Chavez government.

The Committee to Protect Journalists released a statement last week condemning the action.(Venezuelan censorship over morgue photos is selective)

The New York Times used the court order to look at the larger picture in Venezuela. In a Sunday story it pointing out that it is safer living in Baghdad or Mexico than in Venezuela.

In Iraq, a country with about the same population as Venezuela, there were 4,644 civilian deaths from violence in 2009, according to Iraq Body Count; in Venezuela that year, the number of murders climbed above 16,000.

Even Mexico’s infamous drug war has claimed fewer lives.

Needless to say Chavez was not happy that a Venezuelan newspaper — actually two newspapers — ran a graphic picture that showed the failings of his government. The government saw the use of a picture of bodies piled up at a morgue as part of a campaign against his government. The newspaper saw it as part of their job to inform the public.

The director of El Nacional, Miguel Henrique Otero made no bones about the purpose of the picture. He told CNN, “The editorial aim of the photo was to shock people so that in some way they react to the situation, since the government does nothing.”

No doubt the picture was shocking. The SPJ Code of Ethics calls for journalists to “Do No Harm.” part of the Code states journalists should “Show good taste. Avoid pandering to lurid curiosity.”

The picture — as described — was no doubt hurtful to the families of the deceased and it most likely pandered to lurid curiosity. But that is no excuse for a government to engage in censorship.

Reporters Without Borders called the order “too broad and imprecise.”

Reuters reported on the ban — Venezuela bans papers from printing violent photos — on the 18th.

Venezuelan publishers denounced the court order as part of a concentrated attack on independent media outlets in the country.

In an editorial, El Nacional said:

<Google Translation>”The measure of censure issued by the regime of President Chávez against the independent press in Venezuela has ratified its totalitarian vocation and its decision to prevent criticism of the country’s social reality in all its dimensions and gravity, goes beyond the knowledge of the people.”

<Original Spanish text>”La medida de censura dictada por el régimen del presidente Chávez contra la prensa independiente de Venezuela ha ratificado su vocación totalitaria y su decisión de impedir que la crítica realidad social del país, en toda su dimensión y gravedad, trascienda al conocimiento del pueblo.”

Chavez has never been friendly to independent media. He has followed a totalitarian line on media policy that mirrors the policies of Fidel Castro and Adolf Hitler.

And he moves on many fronts.

Besides getting his rubber-stamp courts to hand down edicts, he is also using government funds to buy control of media outlets critical of his government.

According to a report from Reporters Without Borders over the weekend, the Venezuelan government is buying 48.5 percent of the ownership of Globovision and is heading for majority ownership of its stock.

President Hugo Chávez announced on 20 July that his government is about to acquire a majority stake in Globovisión, a privately-owned TV station that is very critical of his administration. By acquiring the shares of some of the station’s directors, the government says it will be able to control 48.5 per cent of its capital.

Federal Bank chairman Nelson Mezerhane stepped in last month at the government’s request and bought 20 per cent of Globovisión’s shares, plus another 5.8 per cent acquired through another company, Chávez revealed during a televised ceremony on 20 July. He also announced that the 20 per cent of shares owned by Luis Teófilo Núñez, one of the station’s founders, who died in 2007, would “pass to the state.” Chávez then did the sum: “25.8 per cent plus 20 per cent makes 48.5 per cent, amigo.” This was not an expropriation, he insisted. The government just wanted to “participate in this business.”

And I love that last line. The government just wants to “participate in this business.”

I would say that the years-long efforts by the Chavez government to close, intimidate and otherwise control media outlets in the country should mean that they have already been “participating” in the news business.

Just to be clear: Venezuela is the ONLY country in South America that is listed as NOT FREE by the Freedom House Press Freedom Report. And its only partner in the entire Western Hemisphere with this “honor” is Cuba, which has jailed more journalists than any other country in the world.

And if anyone was wondering what the impact of censorship has, Venezuela is only marginally less corrupt than Haiti, which means Venezuela is the second most corrupt country in the Western Hemisphere. In general, free media are a good way to keep track of corrupt officials. (Why do you think so many governments want to control the media?)

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Filed under Corruption, Harassment, Press Freedom, South America

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