"This coup would not have been possible without the support of the media," said President Hugo Chávez in a speech to the Federal Government Council, which is preparing the "national dialogue" he has promised in the wake of the failed coup against him. "If the media, especially TV stations, want to keep on encouraging that and we allow them to, we’re going to have war here," he said, hardening his line for the first time since being restored to power on 14 April.
17/04/2002 - Media role to be investigated
The government said it would hold two enquiries into the attitude of the media during the failed coup. One will be chaired by Jesse Chacón, president of Conatel, the state body that grants radio and TV broadcasting licences. Possible sanctions against the media are not clear.
04/16/2002 - "We are not plotters."
In an interview put out by the TV station Venevisión, Alberto Federico Ravell, head of the Globovisión station, and media magnate Gustavo Cisneros, president of the Diego Cisneros Organisation and owner of Venevisión, tried to explain the silence of their stations on 13 April, when Chávez supporters took to the streets and part of the army rebelled against the new government of Pedro Carmona.
Admitting there had been a news blackout that day, Ravell said journalists stayed off the streets because they had been attacked by Chávez supporters. He pointed to the demonstrations that evening in front of several TV stations. "Perhaps the media’s role has been misrepresented by what happened in the country," he said, accepting the offer of dialogue by President Chavez. Cisneros added that the TV silence was also to do with practical considerations, such as the absence of pictures to back up the news reports. Both men rejected charges that media owners had been part of a "plot."
The secretary-general of the Organisation of American States, Cesar Gaviria, who went to Caracas to investigate the causes of the coup attempt, has called on the president to "ensure that journalists can work without fear." Three journalists from Venevisión have already gone into exile aboard, fearing for their safety.
The situation slowly returned to normal with newspapers back on the streets and news bulletins once more on TV, except for the RCTV and Venevisión stations. Many journalists and camera crews working for the two stations reportedly did not show up for work. President Hugo Chavez, answering a question at a press conference, called on his supporters to stop their attacks and threats against journalists. He also appealed to the media to reconsider their hostility to his government and said he was satisfied with the day’s coverage of his return to power. After a front-page headline saying "A Step Forward" on 13 April, after he was overthrown, the daily El Universal ran one on 15 April saying "Conciliation." A week earlier, Chávez had charged that the media was "a laboratory of lies to sow terror among the people."
04/14/2002 - No newspapers in the streets
Privately-owned TV stations broadcast no news, except for the all-news station Globovisión, which only put out foreign news agency items. Very few daily papers appeared, for security reasons, according to their staff. However, newspapers maintained their online editions, using mainly agency material. When he returned to power at dawn, Chávez declared there would be no witch-hunts "or attacks on freedom of expression or opinion." He noted the failure of the main privately-owned TV stations to show film of the street violence in Caracas the previous day and called on the media to "return to the path of reason." Following his return to power in the early hours of the day, President Hugo Chávez declared there would be no witch-hunts "or attacks on freedom of expression or opinion." He noted the failure of the main privately-owned TV stations to show film of the street violence in Caracas the previous day and called on the media to "return to the path of reason."
04/13/2002 - The channels remain silent
In late afternoon, dozens of people staged a violent demonstration in front of the offices of the privately-owned Radio Caracas Televisión (RCTV) while incidents and conflicting reports swept the city about the return to power of Chávez. They stoned the building, smashing windows. Despite appeals by the station’s worried journalists for the authorities to ensure their safety, the attacks continued without police intervention. Chávez supporters also demonstrated outside the offices of Globovisión and Venevisión and forced them and RCTV to broadcast statements by their leaders. During the day, privately-owned TV stations showed no pictures of street demonstrations by Chávez supporters or of their seizure of the presidential palace. Only cable TV subscribers could see what was happening from stations such as CNN. The Venezuelan stations said they did not show such footage because reporting these developments would have been dangerous for their journalists and that scenes of looting in Caracas could have encouraged similar outbreaks in the provinces. However, the French news agency AFP reported that film broadcast by some stations after the resignation of interim president Pedro Carmona showed that their reporters had in fact been covering the demonstrations earlier in the day. The daily newspapers El Nacional and El Universal were forced to evacuate their offices after hostile demonstrations outside. Around 8 pm., the government-owned station Venezolana de Televisión returned to the air.
In the provinces, the offices of the regional station TV Guayana in Puerto Ordaz, in Bolivar state (500 km southeast of Caracas), were also surrounded by Chávez supporters shouting slogans against the media. The owner of the station said the protesters had damaged the station’s equipment as well as its premises.
12.04.2002 - Media in the eye of the storm: one journalist killed, three wounded and several TV stations briefly off the air
Reporters Without Borders has asked the Venezuelan authorities to thoroughly investigate and punish those responsible for the shooting that killed one journalist and wounded three others during disturbances in Caracas on 11 April. After a short break in transmission by privately-owned TV stations on 11 April, the government-controlled media - Venezolana de Televisión and the news agency Venpres - appear to have been forced to shut down on 12 April. RSF calls on the authorities to see that these media can resume their activities as quickly as possible and to protect journalists considered close to the overthrown President Hugo Chávez from acts of revenge.
Photographer Jorge Tortoza, of the daily Diario 2001, was killed on 11 April while covering clashes between supporters and opponents of President Chávez in central Caracas. His driver said he had been shot in the head by a man in civilian clothes. Tortoza, who had worked for the paper for 17 years, was taken to Vargas hospital seriously wounded but died shortly after being operated on. Great confusion reigned in the centre of the city where the pro-Chávez National Guard and the now pro-opposition city police were deployed. The army said Chávez supporters were also firing on demonstrators.
Three other press photographers were wounded in similar circumstances. They were Jonathan Freitas, of the daily Tal Cual, who was slightly wounded on the arm by a bullet, Enrique Hernández, of the state-controlled news agency Venpres, hit on the head by a stone and then in the stomach by a bullet that ricocheted off a wall, and Luis Enrique Hernández, of the daily Avance, who was still in hospital on 12 April.
President Chávez stopped privately-owned TV stations transmitting on 11 April at about 4 pm, saying they were "irresponsible," had launched "a campaign of defamation" and were "inciting people to violence." The order to shut them down came shortly after they had refused instructions to broadcast only a speech by the president and had instead split their screens in two, with Chávez speaking on one side and film of the demonstration being repressed on the other. The president had demanded broadcast of his speech just as the crackdown started. He cited article 192 of the telecommunications law which establishes the "cadena" (network) system, allowing the authorities to requisition air-time on all TV and radio stations that have a state broadcasting licence. The government had already used the facility about 30 times between 8 and 10 April.
Only the government-controlled Venezolana de Televisión was exempted from the shutdown. The all-news TV station Globovisión, along with CMT and Televen went off the air for several minutes before returning by using satellite or cable facilities. Venevisión and Radio Caracas TV, which had alternative means of transmission from the start, were able to broadcast uninterruptedly. Later in the day, the studios of CMT were surrounded for several hours by personnel of the military intelligence service, the DIM.
Normal broadcasting facilities were restored at about 10 pm. after the army went over to the opposition. At the same time, the government TV station was occupied by the National Guard, which had until then been protecting its installations, and its broadcasts were cut off. The Venpres news agency also stopped work.
A general strike had begun on 9 April, called by the Venezuelan Workers’ Confederation (CTV) and the employers’ organisation Fedecámaras, in support of officials at the state oil company PDVSA who had been sacked by Chávez two days earlier. The strike was extended by a day and then indefinitely late on 10 April. Violent clashes on the evening of 11 April led to a dozen deaths and nearly 100 people wounded and injured and the army leadership rebelled against the president. Chávez, held in the presidential palace, reportedly signed his resignation under army pressure and was taken to Fort Tiuna, the capital’s main military base. Immediately afterwards, Fedecámaras president Pedro Carmona announced he would head an interim government, saying he had been chosen by "agreement" among civil society groups and the armed forces leadership.