Journalists under threat for reporting on ongoing protests; coverage of protests heavily restricted

NEW YORK—PEN American Center urges the Venezuelan government to immediately end all threats and attacks against journalists and media outlets reporting on ongoing protests in the country. 

In a February 28 letter to the Venezuelan Ambassador to the United Kingdom, PEN International reports numerous threats and attacks against journalists covering the widespread public protests in Venezuela that began in early February 2014. Venezuelan media outlets have been reluctant to cover the protests and resulting abuses, including excessive use of force, arbitrary detentions, and at least 13 deaths since February 12, due to governmental pressure and fear of retaliation.

Over the past few years, the Venezuelan National Commission on Telecommunications (CONATEL) has developed a policy of vigilance and punishment of media outlets with editorial lines not favorable to the government. CONATEL General Director William Castillo criticized early coverage of violence sparked by the protests, classifying the content as hate speech and stating that the responsible outlets would be sanctioned. This hostile environment makes it extremely difficult for the media in Venezuela to freely transmit information about current events.

“At a time of serious political tension in Venezuela, free expression should be encouraged as a means to generate dialogue and negotiation between parties, rather than harshly repressed by the government,” said Suzanne Nossel, executive director of PEN American Center.  “Threats and attacks against journalists and media outlets are egregious human rights violations that the government must act to stop immediately.”

The government has also ordered—with no judicial process—the Colombian television news channel NTN24 to be taken off the air and has barred it from being shown on cable television in Venezuela. NTN24 was one of the few media outlets that were independently transmitting news about public protests in the country. The government has additionally ordered that the NTN24 website be blocked from Venezuela, has arbitrarily blocked access to images on Twitter, and has imposed other similar restrictions on the internet within the country. Moreover, the government has banned CNN en Español from being broadcast on Venezuelan cable television services. Such international media and social media networks are an essential source of information for Venezuelans, due to censorship within the national media.

The Venezuelan government has been hostile to political dissent for many years, and has dismissed those participating in the current protests as fascists, coup-plotters, foreigners, and vandals.  The protests, which grew nationwide throughout February, were sparked by concerns over rising crime rates and the scarcity of basic goods, among other causes. 


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