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Two news teams attacked in Venezuela while covering the death of Hugo Chávez

By Alejandro Martínez

Two news teams said they were attacked while covering the death of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez.

On night of Tuesday, March 5, correspondent for the Colombian television news channel RCN in Caracas Carmen Andrea Rengifo and her cameraman were attacked by supposed Chávez supporters outside the hospital where the president died, reported the news agency AFP.

According to the Press and Society Institute (IPYS in Spanish), Rengifo said that several people approached them while they filmed a crowd that had gathered outside the hospital and began to insult them, "alleging that they represented a foreign media company that published information that did not favor Hugo Chávez."

The reporters were kicked in the face, the cameraman was thrown to the ground and Rengifo suffered a bruise on her forehead but neither was seriously injured, reported IPYS.

The Committee to Protect Journalists condemned the attack and called for an immediate investigation.

"In this time of transition, Venezuelan authorities must ensure that the press can report the news safely," said CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney. "In order for the Venezuelan public to be informed on key issues in the coming weeks, journalists must be able to work freely without fearing attack."

In another incident on the same night, a cameraman for the United States-based Hispanic television network Univision, César Fuentes, was attacked and his equipment taken while he covered the crowd's reactions to Chávez's death in Plaza Bolívar, in the center of Caracas.

According to a press release from IPYS, reporter David De Matteis, who accompanied Fuentes, said that a group of people started yelling at them "to leave the place, because they didn't want the media to be there." A group followed them as they left and eventually surrounded and beat Fuentes. The journalists were able to leave in an ambulance.

These kinds of hostilities are not new considering that private media journalists have been regular targets for Chávez supporters, said Moisés Arévalo, editor of the digital publication NotiZulia, in an interview with the Knight Center. For "chavistas," the "press is a military objective that must be repelled," he added.

Chávez died on Tuesday afternoon, March 5, after a long battle against cancer in his pelvic area, according to Venezuelan Vice President Nicolás Maduro. The government declared seven days of mourning and will hold presidential elections in 30 days.

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.

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