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Censorship in Venezuela

By Javier Velandia

After the Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez declarations about controls over the Internet, multiple organizations, newspapers and  Venezuelan users, have expressed their concerns about the government intervention in the media and the future of the freedom of speech in Venezuela.

The declarations made by Chavez after a political and gossip Website “Noticierodigital.com” falsely wrote about the assassination of one of the Venezuela’s Senior Ministers, provoked several reactions that put the topic of the internet regulation on the table. 

“The internet cannon be something open where anything is said and done,” Chavez said “We have to act. We are going to ask the attorney general for help, because this is a crime.” He also complained about social networks such as Facebook and Twitter, where many of his critics planned protest against the government, arguing that those places spread unfounded rumors.

For some Venezuelan Nitizens, Chávez declarations are a real threat for the freedom of speech. Some media laws the political atmosphere, the close relations with other countries that strongly regulate the internet like Cuba and Iran and the new technological infrastructure, are some of the reasons why organizations like Human Rights Watch and the Inter American Press Association closely followed the situation calling attention, and demanded guaranties to preserve the freedom of speech in the country.

Jose Miguel Vivanco, America’s director at Human Rights Watch, said “For years, Chávez has sought to intimidate and punish broadcasters who criticize his government, now he’s also going after those who refuse to promote his own political agenda.”  

One of the main concerns is the future of technological infrastructure, in the next months Venezuela will have a unique connection point, a more efficient system that provides faster access, but at the same time will allow the government to have control over the contents. It Is true that many countries like Mexico and Brazil have implemented an “only access point” but the political reality of those countries is different. 

Since 1999 Chávez has intimidated and attacked the local media, as a result more than 53 radio stations have been closed, the oldest TV station “Radio Caracas Televisión” (RTVC) was taken off the public airwaves in 2007, and the opposition voice and the media freedom of speech have been reduced to the Internet.  What will happen if Chavez finally has the opportunity to control it?

Despite the statements, Chavez government denied the intentions of controlling and regulating the Internet “”This is not about covering anybody’s mouth. It’s about the media acting responsibly.” said Aristobulo Isturiz, a leader of Chavez’s Socialist party. But what are the standards for judging what it is responsible media and what is not?

Venezuela is one of the South American countries that have the “desacato” law that criminalizes offending public officials, and  is one of Chavez tools to control the media, almost every article o public opinion against a the government is punished. Last month Guillermo Zuluaga, owner of Globovision TV and one of the most influential critics of president Chávez, was arrested and then realized, in connection with a speech for the Inter American Press Association considered offensive to the president.

Certainly the debate will not stop here, the battle between Venezuelan Government and the media will be on the table for a long time, but what will be Chavez next move? Will he be able to censor the internet?

References

http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE62F00V20100316

http://www.noticierodigital.com/

http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE62D05I20100314

http://www.unionradio.net/Actualidad/#&&NewsId=42735

http://informe21.com/human-rights-watch/human-rights-watch-condena-suspension-los-canales-no-transmiten-las-cadenas-oblig

http://threatened.globalvoicesonline.org/blogger/alexis-marrero

http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2010/01/26/venezuela-stop-abusing-broadcast-powers

http://www.internetworldstats.com/stats.htm

http://www.rctv.net/

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