Freedom of the Press
You are here
Press Freedom Score (0 = best, 100 = worst)
Legal Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Political Environment(0 = best, 40 = worst)
Economic Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
A hostile political atmosphere has pitted the largely pro-opposition private media against the government of President Hugo Chavez and the state-controlled media. One result has been a steady decline in press freedom over the past several years-a trend that continued in 2004-reflected in the government's enactment of legislation prohibiting the broadcast of certain material, its intimidation of and denial of access to private media, and the continued harassment of journalists, directed primarily at those employed by private media outlets. The most worrying development occurred on December 7, when the Law of Social Responsibility in Radio and Television was ratified, mandating large fines and possible closure if prohibited content is aired. Content not to be broadcast includes a series of vague prescriptions against "incitements to war," "disruptions of the public order," "disrespect toward legitimate institutions and authorities," or "threats to national security," which could have the effect of producing self-censorship. The law also restricts content including sex and violence to specific broadcast times and requires source disclosure. An 11-person Directorate of Social Responsibility, 7 of whose members are appointed by the government, is responsible for enforcing the law. The penal code was also amended in December to include a broader category of government officials covered by desacato (disrespect) provisions and to increase dramatically the criminal penalties for slander and libel, charges often employed by government officials to intimidate private media journalists. The government allegedly abuses its power to regulate media, with community radio stations reporting politically motivated irregularities in the allotment of broadcast frequencies. Freedom of expression is also restricted by a law requiring journalists to have a journalism degree and formal membership in the National College of Journalists; violations are punishable by a three-to-six-month jail term. This law was upheld by the Supreme Court in July (these requirements are waived for foreign journalists and columnists).
Tensions between private media and the government of Hugo Chavez remain high. International organizations including the Inter American Press Association denounced a hostile climate toward media fostered by the government. Direct assaults against media declined compared with 2003, but journalists still decried authorities' efforts to prevent free reporting, including threats and attacks by government supporters. Journalists from private media outlets complained that a lack of access impeded their reporting, including being denied entrance to the presidential palace and other official events, rights granted to journalists from state-controlled media. Journalists reported more than 30 complaints of harassment; the majority were committed by government supporters against private media, but some cases involved attacks by opposition leaders against state-owned media. Several cases involved the harassment of journalists by the National Guard and other officials. In June, government supporters attacked two Caracas media outlets, including a television station (Radio Caracas Television) and a daily newspaper (El Nacional). In both cases, attackers threw stones and other objects, set fires, and damaged buildings. Pro-government assailants shot and injured four reporters with rubber bullets and tear gas during protests. Radio reporter and columnist Mauro Marcano Ramos was killed in September, allegedly by drug traffickers as a result of his reporting.
The government controls two national television stations, a national radio network, and a wire service; the president maintains a weekly radio show and exercises his power to preempt programming to ensure extensive broadcasting of governmental announcements in private media.