Minister of Communications and Information, Yuri Pimentel, on 22 February applied for the law on social responsibility to be applied to the entire broadcast media by the National Telecommunications Commission (Conatel) in relation to a major murder investigation.
The minister accuses the media, but did not list them, of “obstructing” justice and criminal procedure underway in the case of the murder of Prosecutor Danilo Anderson.
Under Article 4 of the law on social responsibility of radio and TV, that was passed on 24 November 2004, an investigation can be opened with the aim of punishing broadcast media with a fine equal to 1 to 2% of their pre-tax annual profits.
Ten media, six of them TV stations, are currently under a ban handed down by a court on 23 January preventing them from publishing anything about the Anderson case, upheld on appeal on 14 February.
15.02.06 - Appeal court rejects press appeal against publication ban in murder case
The court of appeal in Caracas on 14 February 2006 rejected an appeal from the National Union of Press Workers (SNTP) and several media against a publication ban imposed by a lower court on 23 January.
At that hearing, at the request of the Prosecutor-General, the judge acted against ten media including two public TV channels Venezolana de Televisión and Canal Metropolitano for “obstructing justice” - accusing them of challenging the credibility of a witness in the murder of a judge, Danilo Anderson, in 2004. The court at the same time banned the media, as a “protective measure”, from publishing any information relating to the investigation into the death of the judge or referring to the witness, whose name, Giovanny Vázquez, was already well known. The Venezuelan authorities suspect Patricia Poleo, editor of the daily El Nuevo País, who has reportedly fled to the United States, to be among those who instigated the murder of Danilo Anderson. “We continue to believe that this decision does not violate free expression, but simply restricts it, because freedom of expression has its limits”, prosecutor Luz Patricia Mejías told AFP after the appeal court hearing.
24.01.06 - Court ban on coverage of murder case seen as state censorship
Reporters Without Borders today condemned a court order issued yesterday banning Venezuelan news media from revealing any details of the judicial investigation into the November 2004 murder of judge Danilo Anderson or mentioning a key witness in the case.
The organisation also condemned the fact that 10 news media are to be investigated under the Law of Judicial Authority and the November 2004 Law of Social Responsibility in Radio and Television for possible “obstruction of justice” in their reporting on the case until now. The offence is punishable by a prison sentence of six months to two years in prison.
“The Danilo Anderson case is fraught with political and media repercussions as two opposition journalists are accused of being among the instigators of the judge’s murder and certain independent news media have questioned the credibility of Giovanny Vásquez, the prosecution witness against these two journalists,” Reporters Without Borders said.
“We fear this ‘obstruction of justice’ procedure is a judicial device for the government to yet again settle some scores with the privately-owned media and at the same time subject them to state censorship,” the press freedom organisation added.
Caracas judge Florencio Silano issued the order in response to a request by attorney-general Isaías Rodríguez. The government and the judicial authorities consider Vásquez, a Colombian citizen, to be a prosecution witness in the case against Patricia Poleo of the daily El Nuevo País and Nelson Mezerhane, the main shareholder in the TV network Globovisión, for their alleged role in helping to mastermind Anderson’s murder. Poleo has fled to Peru.
Several news media have challenged Vásquez’s credibility, alleging that he is not a psychiatrist, as he claimed, and that he has close links with Colombia’s guerrilla groups.
Judge Silano will share responsibility for the obstruction of justice investigation with the National Telecommunications Commission (Conatel), which monitors the broadcast media and has the power to rescind their licences under the Law of Social Responsibility in Radio and Television.
The media targeted by the investigation are the four main privately-owned TV stations - Televen, RCTV, Venevisión and Globovisión - the Caracas-based Canal Metropolitano, the state-owned Venezolana de Televisión (VTV), and four daily newspapers - El Nacional, El Universal, Ultimas Noticias and El Nuevo País.
Anderson, who was killed by bomb, headed the judicial investigation into 400 people - businessmen, journalists and opposition leaders - suspected of organising the abortive coup against President Hugo Chávez in April 2002.
Since winning a referendum in August 2004, Chávez has had two laws passed that have severely eroded free expression and press freedom. One is the Law of Social Responsibility in Radio and Television. The other is the Criminal Code Reform of March 2005. But until now, the authorities had never dipped into this legal arsenal.