Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez is pushing the National Assembly to pass tough new legislation that would “regulate the freedom of expression” and stipulates prison terms for journalists—ranging from 6 months to 4 years—for disseminating news “that causes serious public disorder, fear and anxiety among the population, or damages to state institutions.” Luisa Ortega, Venezuela’s attorney general, insists that “freedom of expression must be limited” to punish media owners who “manipulate the news with the purpose of transmitting a false perception of the facts.”
The proposed legislation is the government’s latest move comes amid an ongoing campaign to rein in private news organizations. In 2007, the government revoked the broadcasting license of the national television channel Radio Caracas Televisión Internacional (RCTV), saying the station supported the 2002 coup against President Chávez. More recently the National Telecommunications Commission (Conatel) has launched “administrative procedures” against 240 broadcasters, claiming they have not met legal requirements to keep their affairs in order with state authorities.
Opponents of the bill called it “reminiscent of the dark days of Latin American dictatorships” and “a serious setback to freedom of expression and democracy in Venezuela.” The vice president of Venezuela’s National College of Journalists, Alonso Moleiro, said the government was intent on “dismantling” the influence of private media and “shutting up some opinion formers.”