OAS rapporteur is concerned with state of freedom of expression in Venezuela

The Organization of American States' special rapporteur for Freedom of Expression released a statement in which it “express[ed] its deepest concern for the deterioration of the right to freedom of expression in Venezuela.”

The rapporteurs' office, that is part of the of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) , called for the State of Venezuela to adhere to “the strictest international standards on freedom of expression,” to investigate the blocking of web portals of media outlets, and to “avoid” preventing the publication of critical opinions against public officials.

The office pointed to recent events such as President Nicolás Maduro’s labeling of recent media reports on a group of deaths at a Venezuelan hospital as having produced “psychological terror” and his subsequent call for the justice system to impose stricter sanctions against media outlets.

Other incidents the office pointed to were the firing of a critical caricaturist from El Universal, which the office said is part of a pattern that began when the flagship newspaper changed owners earlier this summer; the blocking of the web portal of an international news channel, which the channel said was an act that was carried out by a state-owned telecommunications corporation; and, a lawsuit against a newspaper’s media executives and columnist for offending a public official.

CONATEL, the Venezuelan National Telecommunications Commission, suspended programs critical of the government on two different radio stations in May and August for possible violations of the Law of Social Responsibility for Radio, TV, and Electronic Media.

The Committee to Protect Journalists explained that the law “prohibits the dissemination of information that promotes hatred or intolerance for political reasons, foments public anxiety, alters public order, or refuses to recognize the legitimacy of government officials.”

These events happened during a time when the country is also facing a shortage of newsprint, which has led to reduction or altogether discontinuation of some newspapers’ print editions. News executives and press advocates questioned the lengthy process of acquiring foreign newsprint and the government’s recent launch of two state-sponsored newspapers during the shortage.

In August, Reporters Without Borders published a report on the state of freedom of information in the country. Among the threats the organization identified were physical threats or attacks against journalists as well as lack of media pluralism and extreme political polarization. “Reporters Without Borders has registered more than 500 violations of the right to information since the start of 2013,” the report said.

Freedom of Expression watchdog Freedom House has classified the Venezuelan press as “not free.”

Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.