IAPA: Chavez Overriding Venezuelan Referendum By Anti-Free Speech Decrees

By: E&P Staff

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s government is trying to impose by decree measures against freedoms of press and expression that voters rejected in a referendum last December, the Inter American Press Association (IAPA) declared as it ended its mid-year meeting in Caracas.

“The changes and laws that President Chavez seeks to impose against the will of the people as expressed on December 2, 2007, are clearly aimed at preventing the free expression of ideas and opinions, taking control of cultural organizations and forms of cultural expression, and subordinating the Venezuelan educational system to dogmatism and universally failed teaching methods clearly inspired in totalitarianism,” the Miami-based press freedom group said in a resolution adopted at the conclusion of its three-day meeting.

IAPA specifically condemned the “illegal seizure” of Radio Caracas Television’s (RCTV) broadcast equipment after the network’s broadcast license was not renewed; the governments “repeated” refusal to disclose public information to news organizations; its legal “harassment” of the independent Glob vision television news channel; and its “discriminatory” placement of government advertising, typically an important source of income for Latin American newspapers.

IAPA ended the meeting on a downbeat note, saying in a formal “Conclusions” report that “freedom of the press in the Americas has suffered a troubling decline in the last six months, as seen in court cases and judicial rulings against the media, as well as in increasing violence against journalists.”

It noted that five journalists were killed since IAPA last met in Miami in October: three in Mexico, one in Argentina and another in Honduras.” In Peru alone, more than 30 journalists were attacked.

“The transfer of power in Cuba from Fidel Castro to his brother Raul did not improve the status of the 25 journalists still in prison or the adverse working conditions of independent journalists,” the organization said.

It also noted with alarm what it said was an increase in the number of state-owned media, which it called “clear evidence of new efforts by various governments to control information.”

In addition to the seizures of media property in Venezuela, IAPA said the government of Guyana now has “a monopoly of radio frequency.” Bolivia is creating “chains of state-owned radio and TV stations,” allegedly with the help of Venezuela and Iran, IAPA said.

IAPA had invited Chavez to speak at the meeting, but after publicly flirting with the idea, he did not attend. Pro-Chavez Venezuelan officials have consistently snubbed the organization for years, saying it is a tool for newspaper bosses, not journalists.

“Unfortunately, all efforts by the IAPA to open up channels of communication with the government of Venezuela were unfruitful, not only at this meeting but in prior attempts and missions,” IAPA said.

The government organized a counter-meeting directly across from the hotel where IAPA was meeting.

The “Latin American Meeting Against Media Terrorism” attracted some 300 delegates from 14 countries, according to the official Bolivarian News Agency. The meeting’s theme, the agency said, was “the media war waged by domestic and foreign private media against the Venezuelan and other like-minded leftist governments in the region.”

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