New York, March 6, 2012–The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns Sunday’s attack in Venezuela on Globovisión journalists covering an opposition political rally that came under gunfire. The station reported that assailants, who wore the red shirts associated with supporters of President Hugo Chávez, threatened the journalists and stole their equipment.
Journalists with Globovisión, the country’s last remaining critical TV news station, were reporting on a rally by opposition presidential candidate Henrique Capriles Radonski in the Caracas neighborhood of San José de Cotiza. The march was interrupted by armed men who fired weapons in an apparent effort to break up the rally, Globovisión footage showed. Capriles, who is scheduled to face off against Chávez in the October 7 presidential election, was immediately whisked away to safety in a vehicle, news reports said.
After the Globovisión team filmed the shooting, armed men approached reporter Sasha Ackerman and cameraman Frank Fernández, the journalists said. Ackerman said the men wore red shirts that are associated with members of the pro-government United Socialist Party of Venezuela.
Fernández sought refuge inside a private home, but the men entered the house and stole his equipment at gunpoint, Globovisión reported. “We were threatened–both me and my photographer Frank Fernández–with pistols,” Ackerman told the station. “They stole our camera, microphone, and radios. We were threatened with guns. We had to turn over all of our equipment. They took our cassettes that had the images of the shooting.”
In a statement on Monday, Globovisión said, “These were not common criminals. These groups wore red shirts identifying them with a political tendency. More importantly, it was an armed and organized group that fired weapons against people.”
“This kind of censorship through the barrel of a gun does not bode well for journalists seeking to report on the crucial upcoming presidential campaign,” said Robert Mahoney, CPJ’s deputy director. “Authorities must demonstrate that they are not prepared to tolerate such outrageous intimidation of the press by thoroughly investigating this attack on Globovisión journalists.”
During the shooting, the son of prominent opposition lawmaker Ismael García was hit in the wrist by a bullet, and four other people were injured, according to news reports.
Justice Minister Tareck el-Aissimi said on Sunday that authorities were investigating the attack but asserted the opposition was behind the shooting, news reports said. “They went to generate this show,” el-Aissimi said, according to The Associated Press. Other government officials claimed Capriles’ bodyguards were the ones to start shooting on Sunday and had injured four people, according to news accounts.
Globovisión journalists have been threatened and attacked by government supporters on numerous occasions, prompting the Inter American Human Rights Court to rule that the country must provide protection to the station and its reporters, Globovisión said. The station has frequently sparred with Chávez and his administration. In October, Venezuela’s telecommunications regulator fined the station more than US$2 million for alleged violations of media responsibility laws stemming from coverage of deadly prison riots in June and July.
Globovisión is the only network critical of Chávez that is still on the air. Another opposition station, RCTV, was forced off cable and satellite TV in 2010 after its broadcast license was revoked in 2007.