Press Groups Blast Venezuela President

By: Fabiola Sanchez, Associated Press Writer

(AP) Two press watchdog groups accused President Hugo Chavez of instigating attacks against journalists in Venezuela with his harsh rhetoric against media critics.

The two groups conducted a three-day fact finding tour amid complaints by Venezuelan journalists that they have become targets of political violence by Chavez supporters.

Last week, assailants forced a Globovision television news crew out its car at gunpoint and smashed the car windows. Pipe bombs and grenades have been tossed at the offices of several newspapers and television stations, while journalists say Chavez supporters routinely rough them up on the streets.

The Miami-based Inter-American Press Association and the Vienna-based International Press Institute “are alarmed that physical violence and verbal aggression against journalists come from groups affiliated with the government,” Jorge Fascetto, IPI president, told a news conference Wednesday.

The violence “is instigated by President Chavez, who systematically and publicly rails against journalists and the press,” he added.

After meeting with the groups’ members, Vice President Jose Vicente Rangel insisted, “there is no country on Earth where there is more freedom of expression than in Venezuela.” Rangel argued that journalists are allowed to report on what they want and that none have been jailed or censored.

He said Chavez’s harsh rhetoric is justified because of the news media’s blatant bias against the president. The government has said Venezuela’s press displayed its political leanings when several television stations failed to report on massive street protests demanding Chavez’s return to power during the April 12-14 coup.

Rangel accepted the two groups’ proposal for an “international, interdisciplinary commission” to investigate the state of press freedom in Venezuela. Rangel suggested New York-based Human Rights Watch be one of the investigative organizations.

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