Reporters Without Borders today condemned threats made in the past month against the Quito-based staff of the pan-Latin American TV news channel Telesur. This is not the first time the station, launched by the Venezuelan government, has been the target of hostility. The press freedom organisation calls on the Ecuadorean authorities to quickly put a stop to it.
“The death threats and attempted sabotage of Telesur’s Ecuadorean branch come on the heels of attempts to harass and intimidate its Colombian correspondent, Freddy Muńoz (see release of 16 February),” Reporters Without Borders said.
“Telesur represents an important current of opinion in Latin America and the way it is being attacked and smeared in some countries violates the principle of respect for editorial pluralism,” the organisation added. “The threats have already been reported to the Ecuadorean judicial authorities. We urge them to identify those responsible and bring them to justice.”
In a Quito news conference yesterday, Telesur chairman Andrés Izarra condemned a “campaign of harassment against the station’s staff” in Quito that began about a month ago. He said journalist Helena Rodríguez had received death threats from a “Death to Telesur” email address. “The messages accuse her of being [Venezuelan] President Hugo Chávez’s prostitute,” he said. Similar threats have been sent to other staff members and one of the station’s vehicles was sabotaged.
Muńoz, Telesur’s Colombia correspondent, was arrested at Bogotá airport last December by Colombian intelligence officials as he was returning from Caracas, where the station has its headquarters. Accused of being in the pay of the guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and with a photomontage supposedly supporting this claim, he was detained until 9 January. He subsequently had to flee because the judicial authorities were looking for him again, and because he was under threat from Colombia’s paramilitaries.
Telesur was launched on President Chávez’s initiative on 24 July 2005 as a counterweight to the influence of the US networks in Latin America. Izarra, a journalist and former communication minister in the Chávez government, has been its chairman since last year. The station is jointly owned by the governments of Venezuela, Argentina, Uruguay, Cuba and, most recently, Bolivia.