Censorship in Venezuela
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Censorship in Venezuela refers to all actions which can be considered as suppression in speech in the country. Reporters Without Borders ranked Venezuela 116th out of 180 countries in its World Press Freedom Index 2014 and classified Venezuela's freedom of information in the "difficult situation" level.
The Constitution of Venezuela says that freedom of expression and press freedom are protected. Article 57 states that "Everyone has the right to freely express his or her thoughts, ideas or opinions orally, in writing or by any other form of expression, and to use for such purpose any means of communication and diffusion, and no censorship shall be established." It also states that "Censorship restricting the ability of public officials to report on matters for which they are responsible is prohibited." According to Article 58, "Everyone has the right to timely, truthful and impartial information, without censorship..."
Human Rights Watch said that during "the leadership of President Chávez and now President Maduro, the accumulation of power in the executive branch and the erosion of human rights guarantees have enabled the government to intimidate, censor, and prosecute its critics" and reported that broadcasters may be censored if they criticize the government.
Reporters Without Borders said that the media in Venezuela is "almost entirely dominated by the government and its obligatory announcements, called cadenas.
Soon after Nicolas Maduro became President of Venezuela, El Universal, Globovisión and Últimas Noticias, three of some of the largest Venezuelan media organizations, were sold to owners that were allegedly sympathetic to the Venezuelan government. Soon after, employees of the affected media organizations began to resign, some supposedly due to censorship enforced by the new owners of the organizations.
During the 2014 Venezuelan protests, Colombian news channel NTN24 was taken off the air by CONATEL (the Venezuelan government agency appointed for the regulation, supervision and control over telecommunications) for "promoting violence". President Maduro then denounced the Agence France-Presse (AFP) for manipulating information about the protests. After an opposition Twitter campaign asked participants of the Oscar ceremony to speak out in support of them, for the first time in decades, private television channel Venevisión did not show The Oscars, where Jared Leto showed solidarity with the opposition "dreamers" when he won his award.
In the Freedom on the Net 2014 report by Freedom House, Venezuela's internet was ranked as "partly free", with the report stating that social media, apps, political and social content had been blocked, while also noting that bloggers and Internet users had been arrested. Reporters Without Borders states that Venezuela does not fit the categories of either "surveillance", "censorship", "imprisonment" or "disinformation". However, Reporters Without Borders later warned of "rising censorship in Venezuela's Internet service, including several websites and social networks facing shutdowns". They condemned actions performed by the National Telecommunications Commission (Conatel) after Conatel restricted access to websites with the unofficial market rate and "demanded social networks, particularly Twitter, to filter images related to protests taking place in Venezuela against the government". However, the Venezuelan government published a statement saying that they did not block Twitter or images on Twitter, and implied that it was a technical problem.
Previous research conducted in 2011 by the OpenNet Initiative report said that Internet censorship in Venezuela is "non-existent" OpenNet Initiative found no evidence of Internet filtering in the political, social, conflict/security, and Internet tools areas in 2012. However, OpenNet Initiative states that recent actions by the Venezuelan government suggests that the government promotes self-censorship, information control and that changes in Venezuelan law may target websites in government information control efforts.
It is disallowed for websites to publish the black market currency exchange rate, as the government claims that this contributes to severe economic problems the country is currently reported to be facing.
In December 2010, the government of Venezuela approved a law named "Social Responsibility in Radio, Television and Electronic Media" (Ley de Responsabilidad Social en Radio, Televisión y Medios Electrónicos). The law is intended to exercise control over content that could "entice felonies", "create social distress", or "question the legitimate constituted authority". The law indicates that the website's owners will be responsible for any information and contents published, and that they will have to create mechanisms that could restrict without delay the distribution of content that could go against the aforementioned restrictions. The fines for individuals who break the law will be of the 10% of the person's last year's income. The law was received with criticism from the opposition on the grounds that it is a violation of freedom of speech protections stipulated in the Venezuelan constitution, and that it encourages censorship and self-censorship.
In November 2013 the Venezuelan telecommunications regulator, CONATEL, began ordering ISPs to block websites that provide the black market exchange rate. ISPs must comply within 24 hours or face sanctions, which could include the loss of their concessions. Within a month ISPs had restricted access to more than 100 URLs. The order is based on Venezuela's 2004 media law which makes it illegal to disseminate information that could sow panic among the general public.
According to Spanish newspaper El País, National Telecommunications Commission of Venezuela (Conatel) verifies that ISPs do not allow their subscribers to access content which is "an aggression to the Venezuelan people" and "causes unstabilization", in their criteria[dubious ]. El País also warns that Conatel could force ISPs to block web sites in opposition to the government's interests.[dubious ] It was also reported by El País that there will be possible automations of DirecTV, CANTV, Movistar and possible regulation of YouTube and Twitter.
2014 Venezuelan protests
During the 2014 Venezuelan protests, it was reported that Internet access was unavailable in San Cristóbal, Táchira for up to about half a million citizens. Multiple sources claimed that the Venezuelan government blocked Internet access. Internet access was reported to be available again one day and a half later.
Also during the 2014 Venezuelan protests, images on Twitter were reported to be unavailable for at least some users in Venezuela for 3 days (12–15 February), with claims that the Venezuelan government blocked them, indicating that it appeared to be an attempt to limit images of protests against shortages and the world's highest inflation rate. Twitter spokesman Nu Wexler stated that, "I can confirm that Twitter images are now blocked in Venezuela" adding that "[w]e believe it's the government that is blocking". However, the Venezuelan government published a statement saying that they did not block Twitter or images on Twitter, and implied that it was a technical problem.
In 2014, multiple Twitter users were arrested and faced prosecution due to the tweets they made. Alfredo Romero, executive director of the Venezuelan Penal Forum (FPV), stated that the arrests of Twitter users in Venezuela was a measure to instill fear among those using social media that were critical against the government.
The company Zello announced that CANTV blocked the use of its walkie-talkie app which is used by the opposition. In an interview with La Patilla, Chief Technology Officer of Zello, Alexey Gavrilov, said that after they opened four new servers for Venezuela, it still appeared that the same direct blocking from CANTV is the cause of the Zello outage. The government said Zello was blocked due to "terrorist acts" and made statements on TeleSUR about radical opposition after monitoring staged messages from "Internet trolls" that used a Honeypot trap against authorities.
Law on Social Responsibility of Radio and Television
The Law on Social Responsibility of Radio and Television (Ley de Responsabilidad de Radio y Televisión in Spanish) entered into force in December 2004. Its stated aim is to "strike a democratic balance between duties, rights, and interests, in order to promote social justice and further the development of the citizenry, democracy, peace, human rights, education, culture, public health, and the nation's social and economic development."
Supporters of the law and detractors have debated its significance in terms of freedom of expression and journalism in the country. Some complained about the fact that it limits violent and sexual content on television and radio during daytime hours in order to protect children. For example, Human Rights Watch argued that these limits are not fair for broadcasters, "making it necessary for them to present a sanitized version of the news during the day". It also suggested that "insult laws" in articles 115, 121 and 125 of the bill could result in political censorship.
In May 2007, controversies on press freedom were further exacerbated when RCTV (Radio Caracas Television)'s terrestrial broadcast licence expired, with the government declining to renew it. An article by Reporters Without Borders stated that:
"Reporters Without Borders condemns the decision of the Venezuela Supreme Court to rule an appeal by Radio Caracas Televisión (RCTV) against the loss of its license as "inadmissible". The appeal, lodged on 9 February 2007, was rejected on 18 May, putting a stop to any further debate. President Hugo Chávez said on 28 December 2006 that he would oppose renewal of the group's broadcast license, accusing the channel of having supported the 11 April 2002 coup attempt in which he was briefly removed from office. According to the government the license expired on 27 May 2007, a date contested by RCTV, which insists its license is valid until 2022. Without waiting for the 27 May or the Supreme Court's decision, Hugo Chávez on 11 May awarded RCTV's channel 2 frequency by decree to a new public service channel, Televisora Venezolana Social (TVes)".
This government action fueled student demonstrations and contentious forms of political demonstrations.
After the closure of the TV station on 2007, the station launched a new channel named RCTV International that was broadcast on cable/satellite TV. Following its move to cable, RCTV relaunched itself as RCTV International, in an attempt to escape the regulation of the Venezuelan media law. In mid-2009 the National Commission of Telecommunications (CONATEL) Venezuelan state media regulator, declared that cable broadcasters would be subject to the new media law if 70% or more of their content and operations were domestic. In January 2010 CONATEL concluded that RCTV met that criterion (being more than 90% domestic according to CONATEL), and reclassified it as a domestic media source, and therefore subject to the requirements to broadcast state announcements, known as cadenas. Along with several other cable providers, RCTV refused to do so and was sanctioned with temporary closure. It reopened on cable, which is widely available in Venezuela. Other sanctioned channels include the American Network, America TV and TV Chile. TV Chile, an international channel of Chilean state television, had failed to respond to a January 14 deadline for clarifying the nature of its content. Cable network providers have been encouraged by the Venezuelan government to remove those channels that are found to be in violation of existing media regulations.
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- "Constitution of Venezuela in English" 1999 Constitution of Venezuela
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- OpenNet Initiative "Summarized global Internet filtering data spreadsheet", 29 October 2012 and "Country Profiles", the OpenNet Initiative is a collaborative partnership of the Citizen Lab at the Munk School of Global Affairs, University of Toronto; the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University; and the SecDev Group, Ottawa
- Due to legal concerns ZOpenNet Initiative does not check for filtering of child pornography and because their classifications focus on technical filtering, they do not include other types of censorship.
- "Venezuela". OpenNet Initiative. Retrieved 4 November 2014.
- "Venezuela forces ISPs to police Internet", John Otis, Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), 12 December 2013.
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- Human Rights Watch, "2003 World Report"
- Reporters Without Borders (2007) press releases: Americas, "Supreme Court rules RCTV's appeal against loss of its license 'inadmissible'"
- Venezuelanalysis, 22 January 2010, Venezuela Applies Media Social Responsibility Law to Cable Channels
- Santiago Times, 26 January 2010, TV Chile faces "temporary" ban for refusing to broadcast Chavez speech[dead link]
- Venezuelanalysis, 25 January 2010, Venezuela Sanctions Cable Television Channels for Failure to Comply with Media Law