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Venezuela: New law a threat to journalists' rights

By Reporters Without Borders

Reporters Without Borders has protested against a new law passed by Venezuela's supreme court which it says contains measures that pose a threat to press freedom.

The new law, regulating the work of a journalist, ratified on 27 July 2004, provides for compulsory registration with the national journalism association, punishing illegal journalistic activity with prison sentences.

Article 2 says that "to work as a journalist it is necessary to have a degree in journalism, or social communication or equivalent from a Venezuelan university (…), to be registered at the Venezuelan National Association of Journalists (CNP) and the Journalists Welfare Institute (IPSP)".

Paragraph 2 of Article 3 distinguishes between written press and broadcast journalism. "Photographers can work even if they are not members of the national association of journalists." Article 7 says "managers and foreign correspondents of international press agencies, foreign publications and foreign radio and TV can be members of the National Association of Journalists".

Article 39 lays down a prison term of three to six months to anyone working illegally as a journalist.

The law regulating a journalists' worked was promulgated on 22 December 1994. Venezuela's Supreme Court on 27 July 2004 rejected an appeal against several articles from the Venezuelan press proprietors' organisation (BPV).

The Supreme Court ruled that the law on the exercise of journalistic work was compatible with Article 82 of the 1961 Constitution and with Article 105 of the 1999 Constitution, that clarifies the fact that the law determines working conditions and the organisation of certain professions.

The BPV, by contrast, contends that a journalists' work is not limited to applying basic technical competence, but is linked primarily to freedom of expression and cannot be dependent on compulsory registration in an official association.

The BPV said in particular that "the law infringes Article 13 of the American Convention on Human Rights (San José pact) signed by Venezuela in 1977. The proprietors' organisation also pointed out that the "inter-American Human Rights Court put out consultative opinion number 5 on 13 November 1985 that compulsory registration with an official body as a requirement of access to free expression is incompatible with Article 13 of the American Convention on Human Rights."

In a text adopted in January 2000, the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression clearly established that, imprisonment as punishment for the peaceful expression of an opinion constitutes a serious violation of human rights."



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