Mr. Hugo Chávez
President of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela
Copy to Mr. José Miguel Insulza
Secretary General of the Organisation of American States
Dear Mr. President,
Reporters Without Borders is concerned about recent governmental and judicial measures aimed at a number of privately-owned news media. Our organisation fears that these measures will set precedents that will be prejudicial to free expression and press freedom in your country.
The most emblematic case in this new wave of tension between your government and the privately-owned press is obviously that of Radio Caracas Televisión (RCTV). You yourself announced on 28 December that the concession that had been granted to Venezuela’s oldest privately-owned broadcast media would not be renewed on 27 May.
Despite mediation attempts by the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights (IACHR), which we support, communication and information minister William Lara insisted on 2 January that the decision not to renew the RCTV group’s licence was “irreversible.” He has repeatedly denied that he wants to close it down, but it is hard to see how it could continue to operate without a licence.
We are not unaware of the position taken by RCTV and other privately-owned news media during the April 2002 coup attempt. But the decision to withdraw its licence comes nearly five years after these events. Moreover, you yourself suggested, during the recent election campaign that led to your reelection, that the renewal of the concessions of certain privately-owned media, including RCTV, would be put to a referendum.
Why then have you unilaterally decided to rescind the licence of Venezuela’s most popular broadcast media? Would its editorial line, one of open opposition to the government, bother you so much if it had fewer viewers? Rather than just a legal problem or a dispute about the date on which licences expire, this particular case raises the issue of media pluralism and the need for an independent press in a democracy.
Governments, in a democracy, are meant to be exposed to criticism from the media and, through the media, to criticism from civil society in its entirety. This is why we are worried about the proposal, currently being considered by your government, to give the communication and information ministry (MINCI) sole responsibility for allocating state advertising.
As you know, revenue from state advertising is vital to the survival of some news media. Unfortunately, it is used in many countries to reward and punish media according to how critical they are of the government. Rationalising state communication by reinforcing the MINCI’s prerogatives may in itself be a legitimate objective. But it should not be at the expense of the media and their independence.
We therefore hope that, in a spirit of dialogue involving all of Venezuelan society, these measures will be debated, amended and revised for the greatest possible benefit to media pluralism and press freedom.
I thank you in advance, Mr. President, for the attention you give to this letter.