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Free speech in Venezuela: A chronology of a conflict

By Asdrubal Aguiar, El Universal

May 3 was the date not only to celebrate fundamental principles of the free press but also to evaluate the conditions of this right in the world, defend the independence of the media and pay homage to the journalists that have lost their lives for their profession. This date is a good occasion to inform the citizens about the threats against the freedom of speech and remind them of the tens of countries in the world where publications are censored, fined, suspended or they just have no right to be printed. In these countries, journalists, directors and editors-in-chief are threatened, attacked, arrested and even murdered.

For this reason, we all must be committed to the defense and strengthening of the right of free speech, and not only our own but also that or the other, even if they oppose us. The World Press Freedom Day, established by the Unesco, was conceived by group of journalists in a 1991 meeting in Windhoek, Namibia, where they agreed on the rules for free press in Africa.

09.27.99. President Hugo Chávez accuses Andrés Mata, editor of El Universal, of being "against the new constitution, against the Bolivarian revolution and against the majority of the Venezuelan people." Mata had criticized the articles about the faithful information and its control by the government.

11.29.99. The Military Intelligence Division searches the Guadalupana radio station, operated by the Archbishopric of Coro, Falcón state, and taped the station's programs, arguing that it was against the constituent process.

12.30.99. Chávez imposes unidirectional information by forcing all radio and television stations to broadcast his show "Hello, President!" every Sunday. He starts his aggressions against journalists and editors, exciting violence against them and asking the people no to buy the papers or listen to radio stations "of counter-revolution." Up to 2003, the president has launched 622 of these mandatory messages for a total of 492 hours.

04.01.00. Together with the Cuban Ambassador in Venezuela, the president attacks El Universal for publishing a photograph showing a popular meeting in the Brión square, in the eastern neighborhood of Chacaíto, in protest for the "cubanization" of Venezuela.

04.17.00. The governor of Apure state signs a decree ordering to arrest all the citizens that go against the idea of faithful information.

06.01.00. The Law of Telecommunications authorizes the government to suspend radio and television programs according to its interests.

08.07.00. Tried for information published in his paper, the editor of La Razón, Pablo López Ulacio, leaves Venezuela.

06.12.01. The Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Tribunal of Justice issues a sentence restricting the freedom of speech and information.

09.13.01. Chávez announces the mobilization of the people against the communication media. A "popular tribunal" then condemns a number of journalists.

09.14.01. The National Telecommunications Commission opens an administrative investigation against Vale TV, the Church's television channel, and orders the intelligence police to follow the Archbishop of Caracas.

10.30.01. The president announces that the government will "impose censorship on the sensationalist media that alter truthful information."

12.09.01. Under pressure from the government, Teodoro Petkoff quits as director of the newspaper El Mundo.

12.10.01. Chávez publicly orders his minister secretary to write a media content law and organize the so-called Bolivarian Circles to fight the press.

01.09.02. In a speech in the National Assembly, the president asks his legislators to approve the content law "because no liberty may be limitless."

01.14.02. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights issues the first measure to protect the lives of journalists of El Universal and El Nacional.

01.31.02. A bomb explodes in the building of the newspaper Así es la Noticia, after its director, Ibéyise Pacheco, together with other three journalists, showed a video with evidence of the links between the Venezuelan government and the Colombian guerrilla movement.

02.01.02. Chávez explicitly declares that he will not obey the orders of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and describes its members as criminals.

04.11.02. Chávez suspends the transmissions of the private television channels during the massacre of Miraflores, hours before a failed coup d'etat. Photographer Jorge Tortoza is shot dead in the march during that time.

12.09.02. The Bolivarian Circles, responding to the call of the Minister of Interior and Justice, stand in front of the major television channels and damage some properties. This happens again the following day.

01.23.03. The draft Law of Social Responsibility in Radio and Television (content law) is formally presented in the National Assembly.

08.06.03. Chávez ask for indictment procedures against all the opposition deputies for putting obstacles to the discussion of his content law.

07.16.03. The Constitutional Chamber of the TSJ issues a sentence approving contempt laws (prison for those who criticize a public official) and validating previous censorship.

10.03.03. Conatel searches the news channel Globovisión and confiscates microwave equipment, making it impossible for the channel to broadcast live transmissions.

11.14.03. The National Electoral Council (CNE) approves advertising and propaganda rules that restrict the access of the opposition to the media and establishing fines against it.

15.02.04. The president of the state-run Venezolana de Televisión confesses that the channel is at the service of the revolution and he is acting as a politician rather than as a journalist.

02.15.04. The president announces that the government will take Globovisión militarily. The channel's antenna site is occupied the following day.

27.02.04. The National Guard violently represses 14 journalists that cover a demonstration and arrests three of them. Carlos Colmenares, cameraman of Radio Caracas TV, who is protected by a measure of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, is shot.

03.23.04. The Military Attorney General initiates an investigation for rebellion and slender against the Armed Forces on the journalists Patricia Poleo, Marianella Salazar, Marta Colomina, Ibéyise Pacheco and César Miguel Rondón.

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