Friday, July 31, 2009

Venezuela: "Media Crimes"

This, ladies and gentlemen, is what Regime Censorship of the Media looks like.
Under the draft law on media offences, information deemed to be "false" and aimed at "creating a public panic" will also be punishable by prison sentences.

The law will be highly controversial if passed in its current form.

It states that anyone - newspaper editor, reporter or artist - could be sentenced to between six months and four years in prison for information which attacks "the peace, security and independence of the nation and the institutions of the state".
So far, that looks to be merely a draconian version of ordinary State Censorship, commonly imposed during wartime or national emergency... not that Venezuela is under either circumstance at present...

Where this becomes Regime Censorship, that pernicious device of censoring *all* opposition or inquiry into the conduct of the government, is in the details:
Under Article 5 of the draft Special Law against Media Crimes, which will be submitted on Thursday by Attorney General Luisa Ortega Díaz for the consideration of the National Assembly, "Any person who discloses false news through a mass media outlet, causing serious disruption to public tranquility, panic or anxiety in the population, disruption of public order or a prejudice to the interests of the State, shall be punished with imprisonment from two to four years."
The definition of what is "false news" is, of course, at the discretion of the prosecutor. That means (among other things) any challenge to an action of the regime that is met with "no comment" by the regime could be construed as thus being "false".

Having determined a report to be "false" or "misleading" (a second punishable and by the way utterly unquantifiable category) and "causing ... or a prejudice to the interests of the State", it would then be punishable by imprisonment.

How convenient. The next time there is an electrical blackout in Caracas again and the government claims a cause different than the media reports say, then it is bye-bye news reporters.

What, you think for a minute that this new law (if passed) might ever be applied to the *Regime spokesman* if they get the report wrong?



The original call for this sort of legislation by regime stalwart Luisa Ortega Díaz came on July 3rd. This latest action is the effort to actually pass the law. But even back in mid July, Reporters Without Borders was considering this as a "hounding" of private media through new laws and regulations... and that is just what it is.

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