By Isabela Fraga
Several journalism and human rights organizations criticized the fine that TV broadcaster Globovisión received from Venezuela's National Telecommunications Commission after running a series of videos regarding Chávez's inability to be present for the presidential inauguration, scheduled for last week, due to health complications.
The Inter-American Press Association (IAPA) called the sanction an act of "censorship" while Reporters Without Borders said the measure was "disproportional." Human Rights Watch called Venezuela to put an end to the "censorship and intimidation of media that challenge the official line regarding President Hugo Chávez's health and inauguration." The Committee to Protect Journalists called the Venezuelan government to "immediately drop this politicized investigation and to end its persistent harassment of Globovisión."
On Jan. 9, Conatel officials personally went to Globovisión's head offices to inform the broadcaster of the legal process against them, El Universal reported. According to the newspaper, Conatel fined Globovisión for broadcasting three video capsules on Article 231 of Venezuela's Constitution, which says that the president-elect must take office on Jan. 10. Conatel said the videos try to "manipulate and incite panic among the population." In Jan. 8, the Venezuelan government announced that President Hugo Chávez, who suffered from a serious pulmonary infection while being hospitalized in Cuba -- would not be able to attend the inauguration ceremony, which was scheduled for last Thursday, as mandated by the Constitution.
In one of the two videos, which can still be seen in YouTube, Globovisión shows archive footage in which Chávez talks about the importance of the Constitution, and suggests that the Chávez's current situation can be considered an "absolute absence." Such an absence, according to the Constitution, would require new elections to take place.
According to RSF, the Globovisión videos argue that the inauguration ceremony has been reduced to a mere formality and question the validity of the new term of office, due to have begun on Jan 10, since the winning candidate was missing. "A questionable argument, undoubtedly, but one that in no sense renders the station guilty of 'inciting hate and sowing panic among citizens,'" the organization wrote in a press release.
Claudio Paolillo, president of IAPA's Freedom of the Press and Information Commission, called the legal process against Globovisión an "act of censorship and legal intimidation" and added that “to ignore in the media such a delicate matter as the health of the head of state and his responsibilities in the office would be to disregard the basic principles of journalism and its role to inform.” Venezuela's National College of Journalists (CNP) also called Conatel officials to put an end to the legal intimidation of the broadcaster, adding that the action "mutilates and criminalizes the public discussion surrounding our laws," said newspaper El Nacional.
The Venezuelan government seems to be trying different ways to impede the spread of rumors regarding Chávez's health and maintain an image of stability in the country, in part through the increased use of official videos being broadcasted by Venezolana de Televisión and legal processes against unsympathetic media companies and social media users.
"Over the years, the Chávez government has built a legal regime that allows it to censor and punish its critics, in clear violation of international norms," said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director for Human Rights Watch. "Now it is using these laws to limit public discussion on issues of national importance."
El Universal pointed out that this is the Venezuelan government's third legal process against Globovisión, one of Chávez's most aggressive opponents. In June 2012, the broadcaster was forced to pay close to $5.6 million to prevent the seizure of its assets after a fine it received for its coverage of a disturbance at a prison. Nevertheless, a court ordered the seizure of Globovisión's assets a month later, a decision that was criticized by IAPA and WAN-IFRA.
One of Globovisión's videos on the Venezuelan Constitution's Article 231, regarding the presidential inauguration ceremony.
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.