IFJ Says Chavez "War on Media" Is Disastrous for Democracy in Venezuela

The International

Federation of Journalists (IFJ) today warned that the continuing "war on media"

by President Hugo Chavez and his government was a potential disaster for

democracy in the country.

Speaking in Caracas at the end of a

two-day visit, IFJ General Secretary Aidan White

called on the government to change course and to end its campaign against

independent journalism.

White said that

there was abundant evidence of a policy to isolate and punish independent

voices in media.

"These are

dangerous days for journalism in Venezuela,"

he said. "The government must change course, if not it will be a disaster for democracy

in Venezuela."

He said numerous physical attacks on reporters, closures of media, targeted

court actions and denial of media access to official information had created a

dangerous climate for journalists who will be under further pressures in the

run-up to national elections next year.

White highlighted the targeting of Globovision,

a televisión network facing the same fate as the independent network Radio

Television Caracas which was forced to close its terrestrial operations two

years ago. Earlier this year more than 30 radio stations were closed and a

further 200 stations are under threat of closure.

The IFJ also called

for the release of journalist Gustavo Azòcar, who is in jail in a case which White

said was a clear breach of free expression rights. Azòcar has been charged over

a technical breach of administration rules.

White accused

judges of "disproportionate and punitive" action against the journalist who was

jailed for entries on his blog. He said there was a danger that bias in court

judgements mean "justice in Venezuela

is in danger of being delivered according to political interests alone."

The IFJ says that

the Chavez campaign of vocal criticism of media and administrative pressure dates

from before the attempted coup in 2002 when some media owners appeared to support

a bungled attempt to overthrow the government.

At the time the IFJ carried out a mission to

investigate the circumstances. In the report that followed the IFJ criticised

the unprofessionalism of some media, but also criticised Chavez for his violent

and confrontational rhetoric and threats to independent media.  

"The media have moved on, but the government has

maintained its confrontational policies," said White. "The time has come for

dialogue and fresh efforts to support pluralism in media."

The IFJ will discuss the Venezuela crisis in a regional

meeting of its affiliates to be held in Brasilia

this weekend. "We shall remain vigilant and we shall do all we can to support

our colleagues in Venezuela in the

difficult months ahead," said White.   

For more information contact the IFJ at

  +32 2 235 2207       

The IFJ represents over 600,000 journalists

in 125 countries worldwide