Venezuelan journalists declare freedom of expression situation as "critical"

On Tuesday, March 27, in a public hearing before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, journalist organizations called 2011 the worst year for the Venezuelan press because of the rise in attacks against reporters and news media, reported the AFP.

The critical situation for freedom of expression in the country is demonstrated in numbers. According to the news agency EFE, the secretary general of the National Union of Press Workers, Marco Ruiz, said that in the last year 203 violations of freedom of expression were recorded and of these, about two-thirds were related to attacks and threats -- many of which have gone unpunished.

These numbers make 2011 "one of the most critical times in the last decade" for the Venezuelan press, Ruiz said.

The president of the National Journalists Union, Silvia Alegrett, complained about the lack of access to official information and the threat of self-censorship, reported AFP.

A representative of Hugo Chávez's government, which already has threatened to withdraw from the Organization of American States, denied the accusations and said that they are part of a "destabilizing" campaign against Venezuela, according to Globovisión. The government alleged that the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights is biased, adding that the accusations about freedom of expression are "unjustifiable," reported Telesur.

Already during the first months of 2012, 24 attacks on freedom of expression were reported, according to various press associations and human rights organizations. During the middle of the campaign for president (elections which will take place in October), the hostile climate for the press has increased due to both the opposition and government supoprters.