RIC Query - Venezuela (28 July 2004)
|Response to Information Request Number:||VEN04002.ZMI|
|Date:||July 28, 2004|
|Subject:||Venezuela: Information on the Independent Media and Journalists|
|From:||USCIS Resource Information Center|
|Keywords:||Venezuela / Freedom of expression / Freedom of the press / Journalists / Mass media|
What is the status of the media in Venezuela? How are the opposition media treated? Have there been any instances of massacres of political opposition party members or journalists?
HISTORY OF GOVERNMENT/MEDIA RELATIONS
According to sources available to the RIC, relations between the independent media and the government, especially under current President Hugo Chávez, have historically been extremely tense (World Market Analysis 22 Jun 2004, CPJ 12 Aprl 2002, CPJ 17 Aprl 2002). The private media has explicitly supported the opposition, while the state media has supported the administration. Both sides have sought to de-legitimize each other, encouraging a polarized and often violent climate in many parts of the country. Amnesty International's report chronicling human rights violations in Venezuela from 27 February to 4 March 2004 states that "[t]he government has been accused of inciting supporters to threaten and attack media workers who are identified with the opposition and many of these cases have never adequately been investigated by the authorities" (AI 12 May 2004). Reporters have frequently made this same complaint, saying that Chávez's criticism of the opposition media spurs his supporters to attack reporters (AP 30 Jan 2004).
INCIDENTS OF VIOLENCE AGAINST JOURNALISTS AND MEDIA OUTLETS
The Committee to Protect Journalists reported that on June 4, 2004, supporters of President Chávez attacked the offices of an independent television channel and the daily newspaper EL NACIONAL. Angered that Chávez could face a recall vote, supporters first attacked the Radio Caracas Television office by throwing stones at the building and then setting a vehicle on fire. Two hours later, about 20 people attacked the offices of EL NACIONAL, again throwing stones and bottles. Supporters also burned an EL NACIONAL newspaper distribution truck, and then ransacked the adjacent administrative offices of the tabloid ASI ES LA NOTICIA (owned by EL NACIONAL), damaging computers, furniture and windows (CPJ 4 Jun 2004).
Reporters Without Borders (RWB) protested after two Venezuelan journalists were beaten by military intelligence agents while covering a search operation. RWB reported that journalist Felix Carmona, photographer Jorge Santos and their driver Andres Perez Cova were assaulted by agents of the Direccion de Inteligencia Militar (DIM) on 10 May 2004. While en-route to covering the search at the home of deputy Rafael Marin of the opposition party, the crew came across a truck carrying about 20 DIM agents. The agents insulted them, threatened them with guns, slapped and beat them with rifle butts. The agents also seized their ID cards and newspaper accreditation, along with some of their equipment. Before releasing the three men, the leader of the DIM agents, who had identified himself as "Commandante Manuitt," threatened to kill the men and their families if they reported what had happened (FINANCIAL TIMES 14 May 2004).
The Committee to Protect Journalists website lists 11 incidents of attack or harassment against reporters in Venezuela from 30 January to 27 June 2004. Government supporters carried out most of the alleged attacks during rallies or protests. In some incidents, police or national guardsman were responsible. According to the CPJ web-site, on 23 February 2004 Victor Serra and Javier Pulido, a reporter and lawyer respectively for the newspaper Cambio de Siglo were surrounded and attacked without provocation by riot police while covering a student protest against the government in Merida, Venezuela. The CPJ website also reported that Juan Carlos Aguirre and Alejandro Marcano were attacked by National Guard troops in eastern Caracas while covering a violent protest in support of the referendum to revoke President Chávez. Running from gunfire, the two journalists threw themselves to the ground, and were then surrounded and beaten by National Guardsmen (CPJ 27 Jul 2004).
The RIC was unable to locate information on massacres of opposition party members or journalists in publicly available sources within time constraints.
RESPONSE TO SITUATION: NGOS, EXTERNAL GOVERNMENT EVALUATIONS, INTERNAL EFFORTS
In October 2003, the Inter American Press Association (IAPA) met for its 59th General Assembly, adopting a resolution condemning the systematic restriction of freedom of expression in Venezuela. The resolution was then endorsed by the International Press Institute (IPI), which had placed Venezuela in their IPI Watch List on 29 October 2000 (Global News Wire 19 Oct 2003). In February 2002 a delegation from the Inter-American Press Association reported that there is a lack of press freedom in Venezuela (IAPA 25 Feb 2002). Later that year the IAPA and IPI linked intimidation and death threats against Venezuelan journalists to Bolivarian Circles, but did not cite any specific instances (IFEX 27 Sep 2002). For More information on Bolivarian Circles please see Response to Information Request number VEN03005.ZMI/ZNK.
During the 22 May 2004 meeting of the Foro Iberoamerica (Iberian-American Forum), members condemned the attacks on the business sector, media and journalists in Venezuela, specifically citing threats and public attacks by President Chávez against Venezuelan media entrepreneur Gustavo Cisneros (Business Wire 22 May 2004).
In a 24 June 2004 address to the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee's Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere, Peace Corps and Narcotic Affairs, Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roger Noriega warned lawmakers that freedom of the press faces serious threats in Venezuela, as demonstrated by the rising number of physical attacks against the media and the use of strict defamation laws to intimidate government critics (Federal Information and News Dispatch 24 June 2004).
President Chávez has recently made efforts to diffuse tensions between himself and the media, prior to the August 15 recall referendum on his Presidency, by entering into open dialogue with opposition media (World Markets Analysis 22 June 2004).
This response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the RIC within time constraints. This response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim to refugee status or asylum.
Amnesty International (AI) Online. VENEZUELA HUMAN RIGHTS UNDER THREAT (May 2004), http://web.amnesty.org/library/Index/ENGAMR530052004 [Accessed 22 Jul 2004]
Associated Press. "Venezuelan military officer sentenced to suspended prison term for assaulting reporter" ( 30 Jan 2004) - NEXIS.
Business Wire. " Foro Iberoamerica Rejects President Chavez' Threats Against Gustavo Cisneros" (Cacais, Portugal: 21 May 2004) - NEXIS
Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) Online. NEWS ALERT 2002 VENEZUELAN JOURNALIST KILLED DURING CLASHES (12 Aprl 2002), http://www.cpj.org/news/2002/Ven12apr02na.html [Accessed 14 Jul 2004]
Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) Online. CPJ NEWS ALERT 2002 VENEZUELA: JOURNALISTS REMAIN AT RISK (17 Aprl 2002), http://www.cpj.org/news/2002/Ven17apr02na.html [Accessed 14 Jul 2004].
Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). NEWS ALERT 2004 VENEZUELA: GOVERNMENT SUPPORTERS ATTACK MEDIA OUTLETS (4 Jun 2004), http://www.cpj.org/news/2004/Ven04june04na.html [Accessed 7 Jul 2004].
Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) Online. CASES 2004: THE AMERICAS (2 Jul 2004), http://www.cpj.org/cases04/americas_cases04/ven.html [Accessed 9 Jul 2004].
Federal Information and News Dispatch, State Department. "U.S. Official Outlines Challenges Facing Venezuela; Noriega voices concern about economy, press, judiciary, humanrights" ( 24 Jun 2004) ¿ NEXIS.
FINANCIAL TIMES. " Venezuela: Journalists' Body Protests at Assault by Military Intelligence Agents" (14 May 2004) - NEXIS.
FINANCIAL TIMES. "Venezuela: IPI Endorses Resolution Condemning Press Freedom Violations" (19 Oct 2003) ¿ NEXIS.
International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX). "Press Release/Alert: IAPA and IPI Mission Expresses Deep Concern About the Serious Deterioration of Press Freedom in Venezuela" (27 Sep 2002), http://www.ifex.org/alerts/view.html?id=11307.
Temple, Stephen. WORLD MARKETS ANALYSIS, " Venezuelan President to Open Dialogue with Opposition Media in Bid to Reduce Tensions" (22 Jun 2004), - NEXIS.