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Venezuela25 January 2007

Appeal to President Hugo Chávez in the name of media pluralism

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.


Robert Ménard

In this country
29 May - Venezuela
Open letter to President Hugo Chavez to protest about official hounding of Globovisión
20 February - Venezuela
Former policeman arrested on suspicion of participating in journalist’s murder
13 February - Venezuela
Constitutional vote held in climate of polarised media and surfeit of presidential speeches
15 January - Venezuela
Murder attempt against pro-Chávez journalist in Portuguesa state
2 January - Venezuela
New Year’s Day attack on TV station by radical pro-Chávez group

in the annual report
Venezuela - Annual Report 2008
Venezuela - Annual report 2007
Venezuela - Annual report 2006

14 March 2008 - Cuba
No surrender by independent journalists, five years on from “black spring”
5 June 2007 - Venezuela
Closure of Radio Caracas Televisión consolidates media hegemony
22 May 2007 - Colombia
Paramilitary "black eagles" poised to swoop down on press

Americas press releases
3 June - United States
President Obama urged to raise freedom of expression in his Cairo speech
27 May - Mexico
Crime reporter abducted and killed in Durango state
20 May - Cuba
Anyone can browse the Internet... unless they are Cuban
15 May - Cuba
Journalist gets three-year jail sentence
15 May - Colombia
Former intelligence officials leak list of news media and journalists whose phones were tapped

Americas archives
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2007 archives
2006 archives
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2003 archives
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2001 archives
2000 archives

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