Reporters Without Borders has protested after around a dozen journalists working for the privately-owned press have been attacked or injured since 27 February, mostly by the security forces.
The series of attacks came during a crackdown on violent demonstrations organised by the opposition both in Caracas and in the provinces, to demand a referendum on the resignation of President Hugo Chávez.
"If the media take sides against President Chávez, on occasion outrageously, this can still never justify the use of force against their reporters," said the international press freedom organisation.
It called on the authorities to condemn the attacks and to open a separate investigation into each one. Reporters Without Borders appealed to all sides to restore calm and not to resort to violence. Six people have been killed in clashes.
The organisation recorded more than 80 attacks and threats during 2003, most of them targeting the anti-government press and committed during the general strike called by the opposition from December 2002 to the beginning of February 2003.
Elements of the National Guard beat journalist Juan Carlos Aguirre, reporter for CMT television with rifles buts on 2 March 2004 when they saw that he and his cameraman were filming police putting down a demonstration. They also seized the camera. The same day, government supporters aimed their weapons at Paula Andrea Jiménez of the channel Televén.
On 1 March, Janeth Carrasquilla, working for Globovisión in Valencia (Carabobo State) suffered a facial injury from stoning as she covered a clash between opposition demonstrators and security forces.
The same day, in Caracas, Johnny Ficarella, of Globovisión, was thrown to the ground when he was hit in the chest by a tear gas grenade. A Globovisión truck was attacked with sticks and stones by government supporters in the Baruta neighourhood. The crew, led by journalist Carla Angola, was forced to pull out of the area.
Earlier in the day, Edgar López and Henry Delgado, reporter and photographer of the daily El Nacional, were beaten by members of the National Guard when they went to cover unrest in Terrazas de Ávila, east of Caracas. The two journalists managed to escape, but their vehicle was attacked by presidential supporters.
A US-based journalist with Spanish language television Univisión, Felipe Izquierdo, received a gun shot wound in the foot on 29 February while covering clashes between security forces and residents of the Altamira district, northeast of Caracas. It is not known who fired the shot.
The press freedom organisation IPYS (Instituto Prensa y Sociedad) based in Lima, Peru) said that Bernabé Rodríguez, a photographer with the daily El Tiempo, published in Puerto Cruz, northeast of the country, was hit in the face by a Molotov cocktail while covering clashes between opposition demonstrators and security forces.
On 27 February, during the first day of opposition-organised demonstrations, Luis Wladimir Gallardo, correspondent in Caracas of the daily El Impulso, was injured in the face by buckshot, most likely fired by the National Guard. Elsewhere, Carlos Montenegro of Televén, received a gunshot wound in the left leg and Berenice Gómez of the daily Ultimas Noticias was beaten by suspected pro-government militants.
The Venezuelan opposition had called on its supporters to come out on the streets on 27 February when the national electoral council (CNE) challenged the validity of more than a million signatures it had collected to press for the holding of a referendum on the resignation of President Chávez.
In a statement released on 2 March, a grouping of Venezuelan organisations, including the human rights organisation Provea, condemned the "disproportionate use of force by the National Guard and the political police, DISIP during the crushing of demonstrations. They also exposed the behaviour of police forces in opposition-controlled municipalities for "direct involvement in building barricades" and for "failing in their duty to provide security". The non-governmental organisations (NGOs) also called on the media to "promote tolerance and social life and to refrain from publishing anonymous statements and calls for violence".
In a report published in April 2003, Reporters Without Borders concluded that the "the press freedom situation has become more sensitive since the bulk of the privately-owned press openly took sides against the government. Although that is its undeniable right, the excesses to which it was led by its partiality has weakened press freedom (...) It should be noted that the public channel gave way to the same excesses, or even worse," said the report, before stressing, "President Hugo Chávez and his government bear the main responsibility for the deterioration in press freedom."