Chávez (AP)

CPJ urges Chávez to refrain from threatening the press

New York, May 12, 2009–Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez Frías should refrain from making threatening statements and ensure the press is allowed to work without government interference, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. Chávez, right, accused private media outlets of destabilizing democracy in comments earlier this week

During his weekly radio and TV program “Aló, Presidente” on Sunday, Chávez said Venezuelan private media outlets were “inciting war” and “inciting hate and much more,” according to local and international press reports. He warned private media not to “make a mistake with me” or be ready to “get a surprise,” the reports said.

“We urge President Chávez and Venezuelan officials to refrain from making unfounded accusations and menacing statements that could have a chilling effect on the press,” CPJ Senior Program Coordinator Carlos Lauría said. “Venezuelan journalists should be able to work freely without government interference.”

Chávez’s accusations came three days after the Venezuelan National Telecommunications Commission (CONATEL) announced that it had opened an investigation into the private broadcaster Globovisión for allegedly “inciting panic and anxiety in the population” following a May 4 report on an earthquake that shook Caracas. Globovisión was the first outlet to report on the 5.4 magnitude quake.

The broadcaster used U.S.-based information on the earthquake after it was unable to reach local authorities, press reports said. During the broadcast, Globovisión Director Alberto Federico Ravell came on the air via telephone, urged viewers to remain calm, and accused authorities of failing to inform Venezuelans in a timely way, according to local and international press reports.

Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolás Maduro accused Globovisión and Ravell of “media terrorism” during a Monday press conference, the national daily El Nacional reported. Maduro depicted Globovisión as “antidemocratic and fascist,” press reports said.

Maduro also said authorities would take legal action against Nelson Bocaranda Sardi, a critical commentator on national Unión Radio, whom he accused of running a campaign to discredit Jorge Rodríguez, mayor of Libertador, a municipality within Caracas. The journalist had accused Rodríguez of corruption, according to local press reports.

Globovisión faces two other administrative proceedings. In November 2008, CONATEL began investigating the broadcaster on charges of violating the Law of Social Responsibility after the station aired a victory speech by an opposition gubernatorial candidate before the results were officially announced. In a press conference a day after the election, Chávez ordered CONATEL to “severely discipline” the broadcaster for airing election results prior to official confirmation. A month before, CONATEL had initiated another proceeding against Globovisión after the station broadcast comments by anti-Chávez journalist Rafael Poleo, director of the daily El Nuevo País, saying Chávez “could end up like Mussolini.” CONATEL said Poleo’s commentary violated the Law on Social Responsibility.

Known for its strident antigovernment views, Globovisón is the only critical television station left on the public airwaves after the May 2007 closure of RCTV, the country’s oldest private television network. RCTV went off the public airwaves after the Venezuelan government made an unprecedented decision to not renew the station’s broadcast concession. RCTV International launched a paid subscription service via cable and satellite on July 16, 2007, which continues to offer critical programming. Globovisón’s programming can only be viewed in metropolitan Caracas and the state of Carabobo. The other remaining private networks, Televén and Venevisión, have eased their criticism of the Chávez administration in order to comply with restrictive regulations.