Posts Tagged ‘Venezuela’

Through the looking glass: Chavez get “press freedom” award

First posted at Journalism, Journalists and the World.

At first I thought this was a April Fool’s gag. Giving Hugo Chavez the Rodolfo Walsh Press Freedom Award for “defending human rights, truth and democratic values” only added to the idea that this was someone’s idea of a very bad joke.

(Rodolfo Walsh was a journalist who was “disappeared” during the time of the Argentina military rule.)

But then the date — March 30 — knocked that idea out.

When I saw the award came from a university in Argentina, it still did not make any sense.

But I guess it does to someone. Someone who has either a twisted sense of humor or no understanding what “press freedom” really means.

Seeing Chavez get this award reminds me of the comment made after Henry Kissinger got the Nobel Peace Prize: “Political satire is now redundant.”

With the exception of the Castro brothers in Cuba I cannot think of any other government leader in the Western Hemisphere who has done more to restrict freedom of the press or who has jailed or harassed more journalists than Chavez  in the past 20 years

Reports on this odd event

Belarus now sees 3-year old son of journalist and opposition leader as dangerous

First posted at Journalism, Journalists and the World.

In a move that better fits the great purges of the Soviet Union in the 1930s and 1940s, the government of Belarus after arresting most of the candidates who ran against President Aleksandr G. Lukashenko decided that the 3-year-old son of one of those candidates is a possible security threat.

The arrests of the candidates came after a demonstration against alleged election fraud. Among those detained were Andrei Sannikov, a leading opposition presidential candidate, and Irina Khalip, an investigative journalist. Both were dragged from their car and placed in jail.

And just like Stalin — obviously a hero to Lukashenko — the state issued a warning they were considering arresting the 3-year-old son of Sannikov and Khalip.

Belarus Signals It Could Seize Opponent’s Son

Lukashenko is seen by many to be the last dictator left in Europe. He has argued that Belarus should reform a union with Russia. Lukashenko went as far as signing a cooperative agreement with Russia and stated openly he would like to see Belarus once again be part of a greater Russia — ala Soviet Union.

He is also pretty much shunned by the rest of Europe. The EU is restoring a ban on issuing visas to Belarus officials — including Lukashenko — because of the crackdown.

Last month, the Belarus government was accused of launching a denial of service attack against the opposition party and media outlets. At the same time the government also launched attacks against media outlets not under its control.

The crackdown on dissidents includes the arrest and detention of dozens of journalists who were covering the demonstrations. Journalism groups around the world have called on the Belarus government to release those journalists.

The arrests of journalists in Belarus are said to be based on the law. Even though the constitution has provisions for freedom of the press, the law says criticism of the president and government is a criminal offense.

But then again, Stalin ran his purges under the umbrella of the Soviet Union’s law as well.

Belarus is ranked 154 of 178 in the Reporters Without Borders list of press freedom. That makes them worse than Russia, Singapore and Venezuela.

And — sorry I couldn’t resist — speaking of Venezuela, just to show that birds of a feather do indeed flock together (or at least have each others back: Venezuela announced it would ensure shipment of crude oil to Belarus even if it has to buy it from other sources. I guess anything to help a fellow national leader who likes repressing the media.

New Hungarian media law: A disaster for press freedom.

First posted at Journalism, Journalists and the World.

The fall of communism in Europe opened a door to democracy and all the rights that come with it — freedom of press, speech, expression etc.

And the right to elect officials who might do all those other rights in. Such as the good people of Hungary.

The electorate reacted to eight years of bad governance and arrogance by the Socialist party by voted in a center-right candidate who railed against the elites and main stream media.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban proposed and his parliament enacted Dec. 21 a new media law with language that is deliberately vague but pleasant-sounding to the people of the country who dislike elites. The media law that could just have easily been written by the crew that used to run the country 25 years ago. (For the historically challenged, that would be the Communist Party.)

To be sure there was more to the Orban victory in April 2010. But the rhetoric focused on how the government was run by elites who had no respect for the common people.

The “populist” theme was added to the poor showing of the Hungarian economy. Then to tap the last nail into the Socialist’s party chances, a tape emerged of the then prime minister telling colleagues he lied to the voters and that hundreds of tricks kept the country from falling apart.

In April the Socialists were out and Orban was in.

Orban stepped right in to fix the problems of the country. In fact, he pledged to get Hungary’s economy back on track after the country required a bailout from the EU.

The only problem is that he saw any organization or group that opposed him to be part of the problem. And this problem had to be addressed before he could deal with the other issues facing the country. (Sound like a certain Venezuelan leader we all know?)

Anne Applebaum at SLATE reports that since taking office less than a year ago, Orban appointed a council to rewrite the constitution, cut funding for the national audit office and stripped the supreme court of its powers.

But it is the media law that is now getting attention. (After all, it was passed by the Orban-dominated parliament just this past week.)

Running to 180 pages, the law is pretty simple and vague — as is usually the case with people who want to do in freedom of press: “Do what we say or we will break you.”

Under the law:

  • The government sets us a state-run media council — composed entirely of ruling party appointees.
  • The media council is tasked with protecting “human dignity.”
  • The media council can issue fines against news organizations up to US$1 million is the news reports are not balanced. (No definition on what “balanced” means.)
  • The government has also ordered a limit on crime-related news. Such news cannot take up more than 20 percent of airtime. (And as usual with folks who try to control the media, the law does not define “crime” or mention if government corruption is included under the “crime” category.)

The law also seems to be reaching to give the government the power to censor the Internet. Here the government seems to be relying on the “human dignity” aspect of the law. Can you say “Great Firewall of Hungary”? (Maybe they can cut a deal with China and Iran to get the technology and cheap staff to monitor the Internet.)

To be sure, not everyone is sitting still for this.

Right from the start, journalists in Hungary and Europe stepped up almost as soon as the legislation was introduced: Protests at new media law in Hungary.

And again when the law was passed: Adam Michnik Editorial Criticising Media Legislation in Hungary.

Within days of the law’s passage, the chilling effect was seen in a radio interview.

Journalist Sandor Jaszberenyi was on Radio Kossuth’s morning show Dec. 28. Before taking a question about plans to open the abandoned Chernobyl reactor site to tourists, the journalist asked for a minute’s silence in protest at the media law.

The show’s host cut short the interview. Listeners then heard the radio station’s theme tune for a while. When the show restarted it was without Jaszbberenyi.

Jaszberenyi said the incident was an example of how self- censorship was already in place in Hungary.

His was not the first act of defiance on the air against the law by working journalists. The day the law was passed, two Radio Kossuth presenters interrupting their program for a minute’s silence.

They were suspended indefinitely by the station.

This legislation also came at a very embarrassing time for the European Union. Hungary is taking over the rotating presidency of the EU. The EU has raised a number of issues with Hungary over the law.

Hungarian parliamentarians say the door is not locked on making changes.

A leading member of the ruling party in parliament told the BBC that if the law was applied “in a wrong way, or there are problems” parliament would change it.

But then he fell back on the old chestnut of all those who want to stop a free press from looking into how things are done in government. He said they want to “improve” journalism in Hungary and “not to wage a war” against it.

For my money, whenever a government tries to dictate how journalism should be done, it is waging war on it.

CPJ issues awards

First posted at Journalism, Journalists and the World.

Last week the Committee to Protect Journalists held its annual awards dinner in New York City.

Honored for their work in defending free press were Dawit Kebede of Ethiopia, Nadira Isayeva of Russia, Laureano Márquez of Venezuela and Mohammad Davari of Iran.

The organization also released its annual report.

While the CPJ looks at the whole world, its 201o report selected Somalia, Cuba, Iran, Venezuela, Pakistan, Mexico and Azerbaijan for special attention because of the threats to journalism and journalists in those countries.

Bolivia limits free speech/Journalists object

First posted at Journalism, Journalists and the World.

Thanks to IFEX for circulating a report from Bolivia.

Journalists protest against controversial anti-racism law

Seems the Bolivian congress — at the urging of President Evo Morales — enacted the new law that takes effect January 1.

Morales said the Law Against Racism and All Forms of Discrimination will reverse centuries of discrimination against the country’s indigenous majority.

Unfortunately it also threatens to shut down news organizations for doing their jobs.

Article 16 says that “any media outlet that endorses or publishes racist or discriminatory ideas will be liable to economic sanctions and the suspension of its operating license.”

Article 23 stipulates that when a crime is committed by a journalist or the owner of a media outlet, the individual will face “a prison sentence of one to five years” and “will not be able to claim immunity or any other privilege.”

The journalism and free speech groups in Bolivia have argued against the wide scope of the law from the very beginning.

In the latest protest against the action, journalists and other news media workers went on strike for 24 hours October 1. Some have even started a hunger strike.

On the day before the law was approved by the congress and signed by Morales — October 7 — 17 major newspapers across the country made a last-ditch plea for amendments to the law. They published their front pages blank, except for the message “No democracy without freedom of expression”.

In response to the protests of the media, Morales said there would be no amendments to the law. He then said press organizations will be invited to a discussion on how to implement the law. He said in an earlier press conference that freedom of expression was still protected but not if it is used as a pretext for racism.

To be honest, this is not surprising.

Morales takes his cues from his buddy Hugo Chavez in Venezuela. Both use laws and executive actions they say are designed to correct a previous injustice to silence critics.

Venezuelan court bans photos; Government moves on Globovision

First posted at Journalism, Journalists and the World.

Last week a Venezuelan court banned print media from publishing violent images. The court ordered all Venezuelan media to stop publishing “images, reports and publicity of any type that contain blood, guns, terrifying messages or physical attacks, images that incorporate warfare content and messages about killings and deaths that could upset the psychological well-being of children and adolescents.” Officially the move is to protect children from harmful images. What really appears behind the move, however, is censoring items that are critical of the Chavez government.

The Committee to Protect Journalists released a statement last week condemning the action.(Venezuelan censorship over morgue photos is selective)

The New York Times used the court order to look at the larger picture in Venezuela. In a Sunday story it pointing out that it is safer living in Baghdad or Mexico than in Venezuela.

In Iraq, a country with about the same population as Venezuela, there were 4,644 civilian deaths from violence in 2009, according to Iraq Body Count; in Venezuela that year, the number of murders climbed above 16,000.

Even Mexico’s infamous drug war has claimed fewer lives.

Needless to say Chavez was not happy that a Venezuelan newspaper — actually two newspapers — ran a graphic picture that showed the failings of his government. The government saw the use of a picture of bodies piled up at a morgue as part of a campaign against his government. The newspaper saw it as part of their job to inform the public.

The director of El Nacional, Miguel Henrique Otero made no bones about the purpose of the picture. He told CNN, “The editorial aim of the photo was to shock people so that in some way they react to the situation, since the government does nothing.”

No doubt the picture was shocking. The SPJ Code of Ethics calls for journalists to “Do No Harm.” part of the Code states journalists should “Show good taste. Avoid pandering to lurid curiosity.”

The picture — as described — was no doubt hurtful to the families of the deceased and it most likely pandered to lurid curiosity. But that is no excuse for a government to engage in censorship.

Reporters Without Borders called the order “too broad and imprecise.”

Reuters reported on the ban — Venezuela bans papers from printing violent photos — on the 18th.

Venezuelan publishers denounced the court order as part of a concentrated attack on independent media outlets in the country.

In an editorial, El Nacional said:

<Google Translation>”The measure of censure issued by the regime of President Chávez against the independent press in Venezuela has ratified its totalitarian vocation and its decision to prevent criticism of the country’s social reality in all its dimensions and gravity, goes beyond the knowledge of the people.”

<Original Spanish text>”La medida de censura dictada por el régimen del presidente Chávez contra la prensa independiente de Venezuela ha ratificado su vocación totalitaria y su decisión de impedir que la crítica realidad social del país, en toda su dimensión y gravedad, trascienda al conocimiento del pueblo.”

Chavez has never been friendly to independent media. He has followed a totalitarian line on media policy that mirrors the policies of Fidel Castro and Adolf Hitler.

And he moves on many fronts.

Besides getting his rubber-stamp courts to hand down edicts, he is also using government funds to buy control of media outlets critical of his government.

According to a report from Reporters Without Borders over the weekend, the Venezuelan government is buying 48.5 percent of the ownership of Globovision and is heading for majority ownership of its stock.

President Hugo Chávez announced on 20 July that his government is about to acquire a majority stake in Globovisión, a privately-owned TV station that is very critical of his administration. By acquiring the shares of some of the station’s directors, the government says it will be able to control 48.5 per cent of its capital.

Federal Bank chairman Nelson Mezerhane stepped in last month at the government’s request and bought 20 per cent of Globovisión’s shares, plus another 5.8 per cent acquired through another company, Chávez revealed during a televised ceremony on 20 July. He also announced that the 20 per cent of shares owned by Luis Teófilo Núñez, one of the station’s founders, who died in 2007, would “pass to the state.” Chávez then did the sum: “25.8 per cent plus 20 per cent makes 48.5 per cent, amigo.” This was not an expropriation, he insisted. The government just wanted to “participate in this business.”

And I love that last line. The government just wants to “participate in this business.”

I would say that the years-long efforts by the Chavez government to close, intimidate and otherwise control media outlets in the country should mean that they have already been “participating” in the news business.

Just to be clear: Venezuela is the ONLY country in South America that is listed as NOT FREE by the Freedom House Press Freedom Report. And its only partner in the entire Western Hemisphere with this “honor” is Cuba, which has jailed more journalists than any other country in the world.

And if anyone was wondering what the impact of censorship has, Venezuela is only marginally less corrupt than Haiti, which means Venezuela is the second most corrupt country in the Western Hemisphere. In general, free media are a good way to keep track of corrupt officials. (Why do you think so many governments want to control the media?)

Update: Fight cyber censorship

Updating older story.

March 12 was declared World Day Against Cyber Censorship. On that day, Reporters Without Borders issued a report on the Enemies of the Internet. (Read summary here.)

Not surprisingly the worst violators of free speech and expression on the Internet are Saudi Arabia, Burma, China, North Korea, Cuba, Egypt, Iran, Uzbekistan, Syria, Tunisia, Turkmenistan, and Vietnam.

Internet shutdowns or major slowdowns are commonplace in periods of unrest. The Internet’s potential as a portal open to the world directly contradicts the propensity of these regimes to isolate themselves from other countries.

The RSF also has an “Under Surveillance” category for countries that are moving away from Internet freedom and toward a more controlled or censored one.

On the “Under Surveillance” list is Australia for its proposed mandatory Internet filter law.

The growing tendency of Russia to exercise control over all media outlets is now being extended to arrests of independent bloggers.

In Turkey, the government is making it clear that bloggers who discuss the Kurds or Armenians affect “the dignity of the nation” and could be subject to prosecution.

Other countries, such as the United Arab Emirates, Belarus and Thailand are also maintaining their “under surveillance” status, but will need to make more progress to avoid getting transferred into the next “Enemies of the Internet” list. Thailand, because of abuses related to the crime of “lèse-majesté”; the Emirates, because they have bolstered their filtering system; Belarus because its president has just signed a liberticidal order that will regulate the Net, and which will enter into force this summer – just a few months before the elections.

As more people depend on the Internet for their news and information, journalism organizations need to approach attacks on Internet freedom with the same force and vigor as if a government was trying to shut down a mortar and brick newspaper.

It’s all part of that freedom of speech, press and expression thing we all so love.

And dictators so hate.

And just a few other articles of interest from the RSF:

Originally posted at Journalism, Journalists and the World.

U.S. Human Rights Report

You don’t need any love of the States or the State Department or even its methods in compiling this report.


The annual human rights report is a good way to start looking at larger human rights issues. There are many more countries and organizations that also put out these kinds of reports. It would be good to visit those sites as well. (Of course, my favorite is the Chinese government’s “human rights” report on the USA. Seems because the U.S. has poor people we are just as bad as Iran.)

A good NGO to start with is Freedom House and their Freedom of the Press Report

Here is the home page for the full report.

Here are some excerpts from a couple of my “favorite” countries:


Getting “outlawed news” in Cuba

In the democracies we all know about the student demonstrations in Venezuela that started when the Chavez government closed down a popular cable channel because it did not air all of Chavez’s speeches or play enough patriotic music.

And then how those demonstrations moved on to complaints about corruption and inadequate services.

But in heavily censored Cuba, that information is not proper to be released to the people.

The only problem is that thanks to satellite connections, mobile phones and tech savvy young people, that news is getting out.

Take, for example, a posting from Generation Y in Cuba:

Outlawed Information

Rumors spread, murmurs become official notes and newspapers report – several weeks later – what the whole country already knows. We have gone from rationed information to a veritable “coming out” that flows in parallel with the censorship of the official media. Our glasnost has not been driven from offices and ministries, but has emerged in mobile phones, digital cameras and removable memories. The same black market that supplied powdered milk or detergent now offers illegal Internet connections and television programs that arrive through prohibited satellite dishes.

This is how we learned of the events in Venezuela during the last week. My own cell phone has been on the verge of collapse from so many messages telling me about the student protests and the closure of several television stations. I forward copies of these brief headlines to everyone in my address book, in a network that mimics viral transmission: I spread it to many and they in turn inoculate a hundred more with the information. There is no way to stop this form of broadcast news, because it does not use a fixed structure but mutates and adapts to each circumstance. It is anti-hegemonic, although the little word acquires different connotations in the Cuban case, where the hegemony has belonged to the newspaper Granma, the TV show The Round Table, and the DOR*.

Rest of posting

Generation Y is an interesting blog right out of Cuba with the following tag:

“Generation Y is a Blog inspired by people like me, with names that start with or contain a “Y”. Born in Cuba in the ’70s and ’80s, marked by schools in the countryside, Russian cartoons, illegal emigration and frustration.”

It is well worth regular visits.

Venezuela police fire on students protesting TV station closing

Police fired on students in Venezuela Monday as they demonstrated against the government closing of RCTV, killing one. Nine police officers were also injured.

Local media reports say a pro-Chavez 15-year-old was killed in Merida.

Meanwhile, in Caracas, police used teargas to disperse a crowd of students also opposing the shutdown of the popular cable television station.

RCTV was ordered closed last week because it did not broadcast a Chavez speech in its entirety or run the national anthem often enough.

Criticism of the increased harassment and persecution of news organizations not bowing to the whims of the government are increasing. Reporters without Borders condemned the Venezuelan government’s “allergic reaction” to dissident media voices. Even the Organization of American States weighed in, calling the move regretful. (I guess that is about as strong as diplomats get.)

None of this should be a surprise. Chavez has been moving steadily taking away basic rights and freedoms while centralizing more and more power in his hands.

First posted at Journalism, Journalists and the World.


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