IFJ Report on Venezuela Coup Condemns Chavez and Media Owners For Press Freedom Violations

The International Federation of Journalists today issued a report on the actions of media during the recent attempted coup d'etat in Venezuela, which condemns some media owners of censorship and of using media to support an illegal attempt to overthrow the government of President Hugo Chavez.

The IFJ also accuses President Chavez of creating a "hostile atmosphere in which media staff and journalists have been subject to intolerable pressure, including threats and acts of physical violence."

The IFJ says that more must be done to lift obstacles to freedom of expression in the country and calls for action to strengthen the independence and impartiality of Venezuelan journalism, including formally granting journalists the right to refuse to undertake unethical assignments and to act according to conscience.

The IFJ report, Missing Link in Venezuela's Political Crisis: How Media and Government Failed a Test of Journalism and Democracy, follows a mission of inquiry to Caracas from June 10-12th this year. The mission was launched after the coup d'etat on April 11th when President Chavez was ousted by sections of the army after street demonstrations and then reinstated two days later following massive counter demonstrations by Chavez supporters.

The 20-page report says that media played a key role in the opposition movement against the Chavez administration while the President himself is responsible for exacerbating the crisis through intemperate, personal and hostile attacks on individuals and the media as a whole.

As a result, the events of coup and counter-coup, which took place between April 9 and April 14, saw active media manipulation with anti-Chavez media closed down and then reopened while pro-Chavez opinions were censored. News of protests against the coup and the restoration of the lawful government went unreported by some media in the hands of owners opposed to the President.

"Censorship of information by media owners constitutes a breach of then trust that must exist between the public and media if democracy, pluralism and press freedom are to survive," concludes the report, which calls on international media organisations to insist that media must not be used as weapons for the overthrow of elected governments.

"Some media, by the nature of their engagement in the political process, added to the limitations on the independence and freedom of journalists created by the administration. This created the perception among large sections of the public that there is no press freedom or at least that media have compromised their democratic responsibilities."

The report supports journalists' groups and media unions that have fought both government pressure and media censorship. Their work should be strengthened. There is a particular demand that the government investigates thoroughly the street violence on April 11th and brings to justice the killers of journalist Jorge Tortosa, who died while covering the protests.

The report says that Venezuelan journalist reject the politicised role of media and proposes an open debate among journalists about the need for professionalism and independence from all political forces "both government and opposition."

The report also says that an urgent dialogue is needed between government, media and journalists' leaders to restore public confidence and to maintain professional impartiality. The trade union movement in Venezuela - one of the major groups challenging the authority of the Chavez government - is asked to support the efforts of journalists and media staff to maintain their independence.

Finally, the report warns that despite the restoration of the elected Government, tension between government and opposition remains high and that urgent actions are needed to protect editorial independence.

The mission was carried out by IFJ General Secretary Aidan White, IFJ Vice President Osvaldo Urriolabeitia, from Argentina and Robert Collier, a United States reporter representing The Newspaper Guild-CWA, the IFJ affiliate in the United States. The Mission was supported by the Latin America regional group of the IFJ, GAL-FIP and was assisted by the Regional Officer Gregorio Salazar, General secretary of the journalists' union of Venezuela, the SNTP.