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Venezuela29 May 2009

Open letter to President Hugo Chavez to protest about official hounding of Globovisión

Mr. Hugo Chávez Frías
President of Venezuela
Miraflores Palace, Caracas

Dear Mr President,

Reporters Without Borders, a worldwide organisation that defends press freedom, wonders about the meaning of steps you are taking against Globovisión, the privately-owned news channel which broadcasts only to Caracas and its surrounding area. It is currently being hounded by the government and the administration. Why? And why now?

Globovisión reported on an earthquake registering 5.4 on the Richter scale that shook the centre-north of Venezuela on 4 May 2009, quoting statistics produced by the US Geological Institute. From 7 May onwards it has been targeted by official proceedings that could lead to it being taken off air for 72 hours.

These proceedings, responsibility for which falls to the National Telecommunications Commission (Conatel), were opened on the insistence of the National Assembly meeting on the day after the earth tremor.

The television channel is accused of having broken Article 29 of the Law on Social Responsibility in Radio and Television (Resorte Law) which punishes media that “promote, justify or incite war; promote, justify or incite disruption of public order”. In what way does reporting on an earthquake, however poorly, fit within this definition of an offence? We would like to ask you that.

Let us accept that the 21 May search of one of the Caracas properties of Guillermo Zuloaga, chairman of Globovisión that was widely covered in the media was connected with his car concession. We are concerned above all by your opening remarks on the tenth anniversary of your programme, “Aló Presidente”, broadcast on this occasion for four days. In the 28th May broadcast you urged not only Conatel, but also the ministry that controls it, the Supreme Court of Justice and the republic’s prosecutor’s office to act against Globovisión, failing which you would ‘act yourself against the deficiencies and failings within some state bodies”. What could be the reason for such a far-reaching mobilisation of state apparatus when Conatel had already opened proceedings against Globovisión three weeks earlier? Do you want an immediate 72-hour suspension of the channel, at the end of which it would anyway have resumed broadcasting? What would you do in practice to make up for the incompetence of the authorities that you complain about?

The media question is a “public health problem”, you also said on 28 May, dubbing as “Globoterror” a channel which you claimed was “plotting to assassinate” you. This allegation, which has become a recurring theme, partly refers to the obvious mistrust of you shown by Globovisión during the coup in which you were briefly ousted from 11-13 April 2002. Legal proceedings along with debate about the approach of some privately owned media during these events, was not without cause at the time. But on what content do you base an accusation more than seven years later? If there really was “a call to murder or launch a coup” against you imputed to Globovisión - reprehensible in principle and even more so against a democratically elected head of state - would you really confine yourself to a 72-hour suspension against the channel?

Since Radio Caracas Televisión (RCTV) was taken off air on 27 May 2007, Globovisión is the sole broadcast media with a voice strongly critical of your government. No government created by a democratic society, recognising free expression, can avoid opposition and disagreements. Are you not paying excessive attention to a channel that does not share your ideas? Is it because of “lying”, “insulting you” or worse “to want your death” rather than not sharing them? Are you not over-estimating the real power of the media? Do you not under-estimate your government’s own capacities, by concluding that all those who criticise your actions or defend the rights of your detractors to express themselves are declaring war against you? In other Latin American countries, where your counterparts face hostile media or those considered to be so, the state response has not taken such an extreme form. Never has the leader’s lone voice so dominated almost the entire television sector. And dialogue sometimes gets started. It is worrying that this is not the case in Venezuela. I cherish the hope that this dialogue will take place one day.

I trust that you will give this letter your careful consideration.

Yours sincerely,

Jean-François Julliard
Secretary General

In this country
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
28 November - Venezuela
TV station Globovisión targeted by president Hugo Chávez

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

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