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Venezuelan Government Attacks Protestors, Strangles Media

Student Protests in Venezuela (Pic.

Last year, when popular discontent in Turkey spilt out on to the streets, the Ankara government opened fire on protestors at Gezi Park. Following that it clamped down on the media to prevent news about the protests leaking out.
Now it is Venezuela’s turn.

On Wednesday, February 12, protests by youth in Caracas against rising crime and the country’s economic woes including high inflation and shortage of staples, turned violent when security forces opened fire killing three persons. According to media freedom monitors, journalists, both pro- and anti-government, too were deliberately targeted.
“Shots were deliberately fired at Karen Mendez, the correspondent of the Peruvian online newspaper El Comercio, while she was covering the protests and demonstrators threw stones at María Iginia Silva while she was editing a report on the protests for Globovisión, said the Paris-based Reporters without Borders (RSF/RWB).
The version by the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is slightly different although the incident described was essentially the same. CPJ said Karen Mendez worked for “Moscow’s Russia Today television was preparing for a live transmission from the roof of government-run VTV television when she had to duck for cover amid an outbreak of gunfire, according to reports. She later alleged that gunmen aligned with the opposition were firing at her.”
RSF also charged said that pro-government journalists were targeted. Jilfredo Alejandro Barradas a photographer with the State Communication and Information office was shot at while covering the protests on a motorbike.   
RSF also recorded that two journalists – Rafael Hernandez of Exceso magazine and blogger Angel Matute – were arrested while covering the protests. After a three-day detention they were released by the judge but warned against covering protests.
On February 13, a day after the protests, the Venezuelan government began broadening censorship by restricting the public’s access to television channels and blocking the internet. CPJ said that NTN24 a Colombian cable news station had been taken off the air on the orders of Venezuela’s telecommunication authority CONATEL.
“Idania Chirinos, director of content for the 24-hour cable news station NTN24 and a Venezuelan journalist, said she did not know if or when NTN24 would be allowed back on the air in Venezuela,” reported CPJ.
NTN24 has been critical of Venezuela’s socialist government.
Both RSF and CPJ said that CONATEL had announced through a communiqué that coverage of protests or “violent events” would be a violation of the TV and Electronic Media Social Responsibility Law.
“This is an act of press censorship and an abuse of the rights of citizens to be informed,” CPJ quoted Claudia Gurisatti, director of content with NTN24 saying in a statement.
Targeting journalists and taking cable TV off the air are not the only actions by Venezuelan government to stifle the media. It has also blocked websites and social media.
RSF said, “Many people who use the national Internet Service Provider CANTV have reported that their access to photos has been blocked on Twitter, as confirmed by Twitter’s official spokesperson, Nu Wexler.”
The vulnerability of social media was also noted when Carlos Correra, the Caracas-based director of the media watchdog Espacio Publica suggested that despite NTN24 being off air, its reports could be accessed via facebook and twitter. However, Correra had said the station’s website had been hacked and was briefly unavailable on Wednesday, 12th.
“We condemns these arbitrary acts of censorship, which are being implemented outside of any established administrative or judicial procedures and which are all the more disturbing for coming against a backdrop of government harassment of local and international news providers,” said RSF’s secretary-general Christophe Deloire.
Meanwhile on Monday 17-year-old Jose Ernesto Mendez was killed when hit by a truck during another round of clashes between security forces and protestors in Carupano reported CNN.

Chavez Claims Media Violated Free Speech, Shuts Down 34 Broadcasters

Protesters rallied on Saturday to object to the government shutdown of 34 radio and television stations. Crowds of at least 200 gathered outside Contatel, the country’s communications regulator who broke the news. This move follows the shut down of two oppositional television stations just two years earlier.

“In any country that respects the rule of law, a broadcast media suspected of using a frequency in an irregular manner would have been warned in advance that proceedings were being initiated against it and its representatives would have been given a chance to defend themselves or file an appeal,” says Reporters Without Borders.

The crowds outside Contatel in Caracas called Chavez a dictator, while the president says that the outlets are to blame for abusing free speech. “Freedom of expression must be limited,”said Luisa Ortega, Venezuela’s Attorney General.

The government is also claiming that the move serves to “democratize” the media and take it out of the hands of the elite. And for yet another inconsistent excuse, a representative from Contatel says the shut downs were due to administrative errors where the stations failed to update their licenses or let them expire.

This assortment of explanations come just one day after Chavez expressed support for new legislation that could further restrict journalists and send them to jail for “media crimes.” According to the Latin American Herald Tribune, one area of the proposed bill states that “any person who divulges false news through the media that upsets public peace … will be sentenced to between two and four years in prison.” “False”, “manipulated” or “distorted” reports that “harm the interests of the state” would be reason enough to jail journalists for six months to four years.

Government interference isn’t a new tactic for silencing media critics; In 2007 RCTV, a known government critic, was not allowed to renew its license. Self censorship was apparent in at least two other stations that noticeably modified their programing after the 2007 incident.

“With the exception of Cuba, Venezuela is the only country in the region that shows such flagrant disregard for universal standards of freedom of expression,” said Jose Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch.