Venezuela's Supreme Court: Inter-American Court's ruling on RCTV is "unenforceable"

The Venezuelan Supreme Court said that a recent ruling by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (I/A Court) to restore the license of RCTV was “unenforceable.”

The decision of the I/A Court in the Case of Granier and et al. (Radio Caracas Television) vs. Venezuela, which was made in June, was released on September 7. Considering that the State of Venezuela violated the rights to freedom of expression and due process of managers, journalists and other employees of Radio Caracas Television (RCTV), the IACHR ordered the State, among other provisions, to restore the channel’s signal and compensate the victims for damages.

On May 27, 2007, RCTV was forced off air after the government did not renew its broadcast license, which expired on that date, and seized their property. At the time, RCTV was the channel with the biggest audience in the country and maintained a critical stance towards the government.

For the Court, the State's decision not to renew the license violated the right to freedom of expression because it was based on a discriminatory criteria and therefore arbitrarily affected the right of managers, journalists and other channel to express themselves freely.

According to the Court, the facts involved misuse of powers given that "it was a use of permitted state power [to regulate the allocation of frequencies] with the [illegitimate] objective of editorially aligning the media with the government”. The Court reached this conclusion after determining that the decision not to renew the license was made previously due to "discomfort created by the editorial line of RCTV.”

This argument is based, among other things, on the repeated statements of then-president of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, in which he claimed that licenses of media not aligned with the government would not be renewed.

The Court added that in addition to violating the right to freedom of expression of managers and workers, society’s right to access the editorial line of RCTV was also violated. ​In addition, the Court found that the State was responsible for the violation of rights to due process, to a reasonable time and to be heard in several administrative and judicial proceedings. Some of these related to the seizure of the assets of the channel.

Therefore, the Court ordered Venezuela, as a means of reparation, to restore RCTV’s license and to return seized property. After doing this, “within a reasonable time,” an “open, independent and transparency process” should be opened to assign the license.

The Court also ordered the payment of USD $10,000 as “compensation for pecuniary and non-pecuniary damage” to the shareholders of the medium, and the payment of USD $50,000 to 14 workers of the channel.

For Catalina Botero, former Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression for the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the Court’s decision could guarantee that the right would be protected in the Americas.

“This is not a small win,” said Botero, who litigated the case before the Court in May 2014 in her role as Special Rapporteur.

[The Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas interviewed Botero about the ruling. To see the full interview in Spanish, click here.]

The decisions of the Court have a binding effect on member states. And although Venezuela denounced the American Convention on Human Rights – and fails to recognize the jurisdiction of the Inter-American Court - the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights previously said that human rights violations prior to September 10, 2013 are under the Court's jurisdiction.

Yet, on September 10, the Venezuelan Supreme Court said the IACHR ruling was unenforceable “because it contradicts the Inter-American Convention on Human Rights and the Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, attacking the system of international protection of human rights.”

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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