World Journalists Call on Chavez to "Cool It" Over Threat to Close Media

The International Federation of Journalists, the world's largest journalists' group, today urged President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela to lower the temperature of his criticism of media after he announced yesterday that he would not tolerate broadcasts that he claims are attempts by his rivals to foment political unrest.

"It's time for President Chavez to cool it when it comes to dealing with media," said IFJ General Secretary Aidan White from Caracas, where the Federation is carrying out a mission of inquiry into the controversial role of the media during the attempted coup two months ago.

"Where professional problems exist they must be resolved through dialogue and not confrontation," said White. "We need a change of mood in relations between media and the government. There must be more dialogue and greater respect by the authorities and media owners alike for the principle that media must not be subject to undue pressure."

President Chavez has accused major media outlets of playing a pivotal role in supporting his political opponents during the events of April 11-13, and yesterday he warned that he would not tolerate "terrorist propaganda" - a reference to a broadcast on Radio Caracas Television last week in which hooded military figures made threats to the government. He has said he is ready to withdraw the broadcast licenses of offending media.

"There is a desperate need to reinforce levels of professionalism in some sections of the media," said Aidan White. "But pluralism and the public interest are not served by threatening the fabric of press freedom."

The IFJ mission will prepare a report proposing initiatives to improve relations between media and the authorities and recommending steps to help journalists recover public confidence, which has been damaged by recent events. "The challenge is to find ways of building respect for independent journalism both within media and in the community at large. That requires a new approach and not one based on threats and intimidation."