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Venezuela27 February 2006

Reporters Without Borders challenges information minister about law on social responsibility and the broadcast media

To Yuri Pimentel
Minister of Communications and Information

Dear Mr Minister,

Reporters Without Borders, an organisation that defends press freedom, has learned about proceedings opened against six TV stations and four national dailies on 23 January for “obstruction of justice”, an offence liable to six months to two years in prison.

These ten media have, on this basis, been banned from publishing or giving any information about the investigation into the murder of the Prosecutor, Danilo Anderson, on 18 November 2004. (cf. http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=16264)

This protective measure was upheld on appeal on 14 February. On 22 February, you personally sought application of the law on social responsibility, which only concerns radio and TV, to “a certain number of media” for the same reason. These events have caused us concern, for several reasons

If it does not appear to constitute an offence of “obstructing justice”, the proceedings that have been opened on this basis provide even less reason to take protective measures towards media involved. Should a media investigated for “defamation” be closed on the sole pretext that it could “defame again”, even though it has not yet been convicted by the courts?

This curious reasoning seemed to operate when the sanction was applied against six TV channels and four national dailies on 23 January. Why seek to add a “preventative” sanction to a possible sanction? This means a real threat to press freedom and is a judicial anomaly because nobody can be punished twice for the same reason.

To this double penalty, a third now appears about to be added. The law on social responsibility, which you invoke, sets out fines that could be as high as 2% of last year’s gross revenue for a TV station or channel. From this several questions arise.

Do you consider that the broadcast media is a priori more blameworthy that the written press? Is the application of the law on social responsibility that you are seeking limited to the six TV channels targeted by the “obstruction of justice” investigation? You have not made this point clear. Finally and above all, what is the relationship between the law on social responsibility and the offence of “obstruction of justice”?

Article 29 of the law punishes the publication of content that promotes, extols or incites war, disturbance of public order or offence”. Not only does relaying information not mean obstructing justice, actually obstructing justice does not mean raising this obstruction to the level of principle. Does defamation also in itself mean extolling defamation?

Reporters Without Borders thanks you very much and awaits your clarification on this case.

Yours sincerely,

Robert Ménard
Secretary general



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