One year after the coup attempt of 11 April 2002, in which President Hugo Chávez was ousted for 48 hours, Reporters Without Borders is issuing a report on press freedom violations in Venezuela since Chávez took office in February 1999. The report is entitled "Caught between an authoritarian president and intolerant media".
Reporters Without Borders stresses in its conclusions that, "the chief responsibility for the decline in press freedom lies with President Chávez and his government" and it condemns the repeated physical attacks by the president’s supporters against journalists with the privately-owned news media.
It also deplores a presidential offensive against the press since January that includes the possible closure of several privately-owned TV stations, the reintroduction of exchange controls that could deprive the print media of newsprint, the use of taxation to put pressure on the media and a proposed law limiting press freedom. The report makes recommendations to the authorities on each of these press freedom violations.
The report also analyses the serious breaches of profession ethics by the privately-owned media, which have for months been locked in a head-on battle with the president. It notes that, "while taking a stand as press freedom defenders as regards the president, the privately-owned media would paradoxically be happy to see the pro-Chávez community media shut down."
A key point made in the report is that, "The situation has become extremely sensitive for press freedom since the privately-owned media openly sided against the government. It was without question their right to do so, but the excesses they have committed in so doing have undermined press freedom."
Reporters Without Borders makes two recommendations to the privately-owned news media in the report: that they should show more respect for professional ethics and that they should unequivocally condemn all physical attacks against journalists " including, obviously, those against journalists who work for news media that support President Chávez."
The report is based on information gathered by Reporters Without Borders over the past four years and during a fact-finding visit to Venezuela from 11 to 18 February. In the course of this visit two of the organisation’s representatives met with journalists, editors and lawyers of the privately-owned press, journalists with the state-owned media, journalists with community media, foreign correspondents, the head of CONATEL (the government agency that regulates broadcast licences) and opposition members. Reporters Without Borders regrets that neither President Chávez nor any member of his government responded to its requests for an interview.
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Caught between an authoritarian president and intolerant media
Reporters Without Borders Venezuela Report - April 2003