Organizations warn of escalating legal actions against private media outlets in Venezuela

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  • August 13, 2013

By Isabela Fraga

The recent surge of legal actions against private media outlets in Venezuela has caught the attention of several journalism organizations, who have described them as attacks on freedom of expression.

On Friday Aug. 8, the newspapers El Nacional y Tal Cual received a fine equivalent to 1% their gross profit from 2009 for the 2010 publication of a photo showing the deplorable state of a morgue, reported the organization Espacio Público. The country's Court for the Protection of Children and Adolescents determined that El Nacional cannot publish images with "violent content, firearms, physical agression, blood or nude cadavers," added the organization.

Leonecis Garcia, editor for the group 6to Poder, who was arrested and had his bank accounts frozen.

In July, the media group 6to Poder and its editor, Leonecis García, had their bank accounts frozen due to a large amount of money García has in Venezuelan and foreign accounts, according to RNV. The measure caused the shutdown of the group's outlets, the detention of García and caused workers to conduct a hunger strike  for several days in front of the Organization of American States (OAS) headquarters, in Caracas, reported the paper La Verdad.

For the Press and Institute Society of Venezuela (IPYS Venezuela), these cases reveal the disproportional use of state power to "criminalize the work of journalists and private and independent media outlets." A press release published by the organization mentioned seven cases that occurred last month, as well as similar events in the past decade, which "constitute violations that may affect the freedom and plurality of information in Venezuela," Héctor Faúndez Ledesma, a lawyer specializing in freedom of expression said in an interview with IPYS.

In an interview with EFE, the executive director of IPYS in the country, Marienela Balbi, said judicial mechanisms used by the government to establish an environment of self-censorship and violations of freedom of expression are subtle. It is easy to see "the lack of balance between the alleged crime and the penalties being applied," she said.

The Association for Free Civil Expression agreed with IPYS and expressed concern over the rise of judicial measures the Venezuelan government is using against private media outlets in the country, reported El Universal. The organization pointed to the haste with which the measures were brought against the outlets, something unusual in a government that "initiates lawsuits that are then held up for a long time (...) waiting for most politically convenient moment (...) to communicate the decisions."

Newspaper Correo del Caroní was censored by legal means and was impeded from publishing stories on the alleged corruption of mining businessman Yamal Mustafá.

Both IPYS and the Association for Free Civil Expression also highlighted the case of the newspaper Correo del Caroní, which in July 2013 was impeded from publishing a story on Yamal Mustafá, a businessman with the Orinoco mining company who had been arrested and prosecuted days earlier for alleged involvement in corruption. Since 2012, the newspaper published allegations of acts of corruption in which Mustafa was involved.

For Carlos Correa, with the organization Espacio Público, these are not isolated incidents. "They are part of a restrictive policy that is associated with the current political situation. The government attacks media outlets due to the recent close election results, and prepares for the next local elections by ensuring opposition candidates will have unequal access to media outlets," said Correa in an interview with the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas.

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.