Journalists Condemn Chavez "Contempt for Democracy" Following TV Takeover and Killing of Journalist

The chaos surrounding the Government of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela is the inevitable price to be paid by those who show "contempt for democracy" said the International Federation of Journalists following a dramatic day in which the desperate administration in Caracas forced all private TV stations off the air and widespread violence in which one journalist died and others were injured.

The IFJ called on journalists around the world to show their solidarity with the Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de Prensa (SNTP) in Venezuela, the IFJ affiliate, which has strongly opposed the actions on the Chavez government in recent months against the media and which has anounced that the situation is "absolutely normal" for journalists in the country.

"The fall of the Government and military involvement in an interim administration is no cause for cheering among democrats," said Aidan White, General Secretary of the IFJ, "but the contempt for democracy shown by the Chavez regime has generated such a wave of popular opposition that the fall of this administration was all but inevitable."

The IFJ regional organisation GAL-FIP has its headquarters in Caracas from where the IFJ reported a calm response to the latest developments among media staff. "Journalists are getting on with their work and striving to maintain their professionalism. We applaud the members of the SNTP for their resolution in the current crisis and we welcome the solidarity of journalists' groups around Latin America and elsewhere," said White.

The Venezuelan journalist Jorge Tortosa, a photographer for the daily 2001, was shot dead, reportedly by an army sniper, while covering violent clashes between supporters of President Chávez and opposition demonstrators during the third day of a nationwide strike. Another journalist, Jonathan Freitas, a photographer with the daily TalCual, was shot in the arm while covering the clashes.

"The killing of Jorge Tortosa is a tragic and senseless act," said Aidan White. "The responsibility lies with a regime that had lost all sense of democratic responsibility."

The IFJ protested that the government had taken over local television in an attempt to prevent the public from witnessing its crackdown on the opposition. "The Government tried to block the news of demonstrations and then finally shut down broadcasting stations altogether," said the IFJ. "It was a crude and desperate attempt to impose censorship."

The Chávez government has been a severe critic of the independent Venezuelan press and during recent days has intervened directly to stop broadcasts of media coverage of the national strike.

"The IFJ regional office will continue its work for all colleagues in the region," said Aidan White, "We insist that the fall of Chavez does not mean the loss of democratic rights, but that there will be a swift return to democratic conditions and the preservation of media independence."