Venezuela: Media Censorship or Witness Protection?
Brazilians chill at campground today at the 6th World Social Forum in Caracas
The opposition-owned Venezuela media is up in arms over a recent decision by a Judge in Caracas to order that the media cease printing information from the official case file of an increasingly bizarre trial over the murder of Federal Prosecutor Danilo Anderson, who was investigating crimes related to the April 2002 coup, which briefly ousted Ven. President Hugo Chavez. Last week, Attorney General IsaÃas RodrÃguez accused Venezuelan newspapers and broadcasters of promoting a campaign to discredit prosecutors in the case.
Censorship the opposition is yelling loudly, with the mercenary organization Reporters Without Borders taking up the fight yesterday as well. Experts quoted in the mainstream Venezuelan press are saying the act "is not only an attack against freedom of speech, but it is a clear expression of previous censorship. No Venezuelan law whatsoever provides for such an action." Is this true? Let's consider the following:
When the press doesn't publish information on victims of crimes, is that censorship? When they don't publish private information on minors, is that censorship? When, as in the US, the media is not allowed to defame or publish untrue information on private citizens, is that censorship? Is the press "free" to keep information private they know about a crime (as in the Velerie Plame case?)? Can the press publish classified information illegally (witness Bush hunting the NYTimes now for the eavesdropping story)? Can the press incite lawbreaking and violence (ask the Iraqis on the US position on that)?
Common Law has long held that one may be free to publish as one pleases, but if such publicaiton breaks another law, then sanction may occur. In the US, The Supreme Court has ruled that Âthe right to speak and publish does not carry with it the unrestrained right to gather information.Â
When the Internation Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia issued "contempt" charges against 6 Croations for publishing closed testimony and information on key witnesses (almost exactly like this case), were they censors?
In Venezuela, the law protecting witnesses (and victims) is clear:
Organic Law of the Ministry of Public Affairs, Title VII on the Protection of Victims, Witnesses, and Experts, Chapter I and II:
Article 82. The Attorney General, through the Office of Protection of Victims, in their own initiative or due to a request by the interested party or his/her representative, will request that the Judge take all the measures needed to guarantee the integrity of the victim and their liberty and material means.
Chapter II of the Protection of Witness and Experts states in Article 86, "the protection of witnesses and experts will concur with the same provisions of the previous articles on the protection of victims."
As Attorney General Isaias Rodriguez said today, "There is a very focused purpose, to take out the witness from the trial." This must never be allowed to happen. If the press is going to break the law in that aim, what else is to be done to protect the overriding criteria of justice?