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Alí Rodriguez

The Venezuelan government rejected a report released on Saturday by the Inter American Press Association (IAPA) that harshly criticized recently passed laws and claimed that freedom of expression in Venezuela was in jeopardy. "In no other country has such a total and absolute press freedom been seen," responded Venezuela’s Minister of Foreign Relations, Alí Rodríguez, adding that the IAPA, "does not have the right to interfere in the affairs of this country."

The IAPA is an association of newspaper owners based in Miami. According to the report, the recent passing of the Law of Social Responsibility in Radio and Television, the reform of the Penal Code, and the alleged domination of all branches of government to the will of the executive have given rise to self-censorship in the media.

The report goes on to condemn the Venezuelan government for "reducing democratic liberties and guarantees granted to the citizens by law and with that destroying freedom of expression and freedom of the press." During the organization’s meeting in Panama City, the regional Vice President, Juan Manuel Carmona Perera, denounced Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez for his alleged "totalitarian control over the media in order to impose his political project."

Before more than one hundred directors and news outlet owners, Carmona stated that, "in Venezuela Chávez rules the radio, the television, the newspapers, and the internet with an iron fist." After accusing the Venezuelan President of altering the Constitution in order to "limit freedom of expression in this country and to silence the voices of the opposition," he stated that Venezuela is "a Marxist-inspired dictatorial regime.”

The IAPA urged international and hemispheric organizations such as the Inter American Commission of Human Rights to "fulfill their institutional duties" by reproaching these "repeated violations of freedom of expression and freedom of the press that are taking place in Venezuela."

Calling into Question the Legitimacy of the IAPA

Foreign Minister Ali Rodríguez refuted these accusations, maintaining that the Law for Social Responsibility for Radio and Television does not affect newspapers or the internet, or regulate information that can be broadcast. The purpose of the law, he explained, is to eliminate sexual and violent content during certain hours in the radio and the television and to make more space available for the broadcasting of national artists.

According to Rodríguez, the IAPA’s report on Venezuela stems from the fact that Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez does not bow before corporate interests or the attacks they unleash, nor does he seek out associations with the owners of the media

He then affirmed that the IAPA exists to defend the owner’s “own privileges and economic interests, and not those of freedom of expression." Rodríguez went on to explain that "the IAPA is committed to an ideological and political position, in a way that any country that has a distinct position will receive a negative rating... This is a group of the owners of the media; it does not respond to the popular media or to the audience."

This is not the first time that the legitimacy of the IAPA has come into doubt. Belgian Information and Communication Sciences Professor Armand Mattelart contends that the IAPA played a key role in the 1973 coup d’état which overthrew the democratically-elected government of Salvador Allende.

Chávez challenged the IAPA’s assessment of Venezuelan democracy after their visit to the South American nation in December 2004, asserting that the organization threatens true democracies and rewards false ones. “It is necessary to ask why [the IAPA] speaks of the violation of freedoms [in Venezuela] when they don’t say a word about the five Cuban patriots illegally imprisoned in the United States, the prisons of the empire, and they don’t say even mention those 19 North American journalists who are being prosecuted by Washington for not revealing their sources,” stated Chávez.

Argentina’s President Néstor Kircher who, along with Cuban President Fidel Castro, was also harshly criticized by the IAPA as a danger to freedom of expression, maintains that the IAPA only looks out for large, corporate interests. "This association, so concerned with seeing how they are going to distribute public funds, says that it is necessary to give them to the largest media," he noted, adding, "we will thus eliminate the thoughts of the smaller media because, according to the IAPA, publicity should be distributed according to the capacity of sales of the media."

Kirchner also called into question the validity of the organization based on the fact that Danilo Arbilla, who formed part of the commission that evaluated freedom of expression in Argentina, Venezuela, and other Latin America countries, was a censor of the press in Uruguay during the military dictatorship (1973-1985). During Arbilla’s tenure, hundreds of journalists were kidnapped and killed, and 173 news outlets were closed.