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Venezuela: The Proposed Media Crimes Law

Categories: Latin America, Venezuela, Freedom of Speech, Law, Media & Journalism, Politics

Luisa Ortega Díaz, the Attorney General of Venezuela, presented a proposal for the “Law Against Media Crimes” on July 30 (read text here [es] [1]) that some bloggers and journalists say seriously threaten freedom of expression in the country. The media has often been in the center of the battlefield during the country's political conflicts. Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez has been very critical of many media outlets accusing them of destabilizing the country and spreading false information. As a result, Ortega Díaz states [2], “It is necessary that the Venezuelan state regulates freedom of expression.” However, she continues that the government does not seek to limit this freedom, but only regulate it.

Photo by Alé and used under a Creative Commons license. http://www.flickr.com/photos/alele/3779476136/ [3]

Photo by Alé and used under a Creative Commons license. http://www.flickr.com/photos/alele/3779476136/

The current Constitution guarantees freedom of expression, but it also indicates that there must be some limits and responsibilities. However, this bill increases the number of crimes that may be committed by those in the media. The bill contains 17 articles that states that owners of media outlets, journalists, sources, and anyone that participates in any communication media, may receive up to 4 years in prison if the published news causes a public panic in the population or disturbs the peace, security, or independence of the Venezuelan State. The same punishment can be applied for those manipulating information, as well as those that harm “the mental health or public morals.”

It is these vague terms that concern many Venezuelan bloggers and journalists. They argue that the loose interpretation of these crimes may allow the government to crack down on any members of the media that criticize the government. It would be up to the government's discretion to determine what actions fit within the framework of the new law. Many of the country's bloggers and journalists are quite concerned about how such a law might be applied and what it would mean for journalism in Venezuela.

One such person is Journalism professor Moraima Guanipa, who comments on Twitter that the bill is a [es] [4] “new attempt to establish censorship and self-censorship through the penalization of journalistic work.”

A couple of bloggers were among those that are using citizen media tools to create videos to provide their thoughts on the bill. Blogger Naky Soto made a viral video [5] explaining how the bill strengthens the punitive character in the practice of journalism. Another blogger, Jogreg Henríquez of the blog Circulemos [es] [6]created a video to alert the dangers that “anyone” could go to jail because of the government's loose interpretation of the regulation. The video is subtitled into English [7]:

Other reactions from Venezuelan twitterers:

Kira Kariakin @kirakar

Dicen que George Bush asesoró a Luisa Ortega Diaz (la Fiscal) en su propuesta de Ley de delitos mediáticos…

They say that George Bush advised Luisa Ortega Díaz (the Attorney General) for the proposed bill of the Law against media crimes…

@lobohombreriera [8]

Leo la ley de delitos mediáticos. A ver quien es el guapo que puede definir lo que es “salud moral”. Vaya país. #FreeMediaVe

I read the law of media crimes. Let's see who is the one that can define “moral health” What a country! #FreeMediaVe

Analiz Suárez @anairinna [9]:

Junto a la Ley de delítos mediáticos, deben -a su vez- crear una mega carcel, para que puedan meternos a todos :) ¿no que no?

Along with the Law Against Media Crimes, they should also build a mega prison, so that they can fit all of us there, right?

@nabifer [10]:

esto de la Ley de Delitos Mediáticos no deja dormir. Yo creo que no nos estamos percantando de la magnitud del asunto. #freemediave

This Law Against Media Crimes keeps one up at night. I think that we are not realizing the magnitude of the situation #freemediave

The blog Panfleto Negro [es], which recently celebrated its 10 year anniversary as an online collective, comments that a law like that will also affect the State [11].

Finalmente, en Venezuela se legalizará la censura, una avanzada heroíca de la derecha conservadora y fundamentalista. El único aspecto positivo consiste en la posibilidad real de hacer limpieza. Desde ya en panfletonegro esperamos que apresen al Presidente, a todo el tren ministerial y a los miembros relevantes de la Asamblea Nacional, así como también a todos los reporteros de los canales del Estado y de los medios privados, por los delitos que cometen diariamente según este proyecto de ley.

Finally, censorship will be legalized in Venezuela, a heroic advance by the conservative and fundamentalist right-wing. The only positive aspect consists of the real possibility of cleaning things up. Here at (the blog) Panfleto Negro, we hope that they arrest the President, all of the ministers, and the relevant members of the National Assembly, as well as the the reporters from the State stations and from the private media, for the crimes that they commit on a daily basis according to the this bill.

In addition, the blogger at Slave to the PC [es] makes an announcement [12]: “I declare myself a delinquent. Ladies and gentlemen, soon I will be a delinquent. Every time that I criticize some governmental action in this blog, I will be running the risk of being tried by the ‘Venezuelan justice’ system.” He added that the other risk is self-censorship:

La idea de criminalizar la información es un reflejo claro de que este Gobierno está en decadencia. La justificación de querer poner límites a la libertad de expresión muestra un rechazo impresionante a la democracia. El debate, la discusión y, lo mas importante, la voz de cada quien, quedan suspendidos hasta nuevo aviso. La autocensura será la solución de los entregados. La búsqueda y muestra de la realidad será la bandera de los que lucharán. Caerán algunos, de eso estoy seguro, pero no podran callarlos a todos.

The idea of criminalizing information is a clear reflection that this Government is in decline. The justification for wanting to place limits on the freedom of expression shows an incredible rejection of democracy. Debate, discussion, and most importantly, each person's voice, have been suspended until further notice. Self-censorship will be the solution for those who have surrendered. Searching for and showing reality will be the causes of those who will fight. Some will fall, of that I am sure, but they cannot silence everyone.

On the other hand, Michel, a pro-government blogger, uses the same argument as the Attorney General in saying that freedom of expression should be balanced with the citizen security and cites the irresponsibility of some media outlets [es] [13]:

La fiscal general señaló que es necesario regular la actividad de los medios y brindarle una protección apropiada a los ciudadanos, quienes lucen indefensos ante el uso irracional del poder que actualmente ostentan los medios de comunicación social.

The Attorney General says that it is necessary to regulate the media's activity and provide the appropriate protection to the citizens, who appear defenseless against the irrational use of power held by the media.

Finally, journalist Carlos Correa, director of the NGO Espacio Público [es] writes about what is at stake [14]:

Dada la importancia de la libertad de expresión en una sociedad democrática, debe el Estado garantizar y promover su ejercicio, no limitarlo mediante leyes que buscan silenciar los medios de comunicación o todo intento de expresión libre y crítica.

Given the importance of freedom of expression in a democratic society, the State should guarantee and promote this exercise, not limit it through laws that attempt to silence the media or any attempt of free expression and criticism.