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Venezuela’s Media Minister Andres Izarra replies to the Washington Post

The Venezuelan Minister of Communication & Information has replied to Washington Post columnist Jackson Diehl, who stated in an article published March 28 that in Venezuela, journalists are persecuted and the press is censored.

Translated by Philip Stinard

Diehl also spoke of the Law of Social Responsibility in Radio & Television as a punitive instrument that won’t permit the independent exercise of journalism.

In Andres Izarra’s response, we find a story of rights violated in the United States, and attacks against the freedom of information in that country. In conclusion, the press is freer in Venezuela than in the United States.

The following is the letter (translated) in its entirety:

Mr. Jackson Diehl
The Washington Post
Washington DC USA

Mister Diehl:

It’s impossible to believe that a journalist at a newspaper as important as the Washington Post is so badly informed as you appear to be in your article “Chavez’s Censorship: Where Disrespect Can Land You in Jail,” published March 28.

You can believe, if you wish, that Venezuela used to be “the most prosperous and stable democracy in Latin America” (with 80% of the population in extreme poverty, civil strife, and military uprisings), put you can’t write, without lying, that in Venezuela, journalists are persecuted and the press is censored, because there isn’t a single case that supports what you say.

You say the truth when you affirm that “some newspapers and television stations openly sided with attempts to oust the president via coup, strike or a national referendum.” Before being Minister of Information and Communication, I worked as news director for RCTV, an important private TV station in Venezuela. Immediately after the coup of April 2002 against President Hugo Chavez, when hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans took to the streets demanding the return of their elected president, RCTV and other private channels decided not to report on this civil uprising, preferring to broadcast cartoons and old movies. Since I couldn’t bring myself to participate in this censorship, I resigned.

As journalist Duncan Campbell reported for the (London) Guardian, “The five principal TV channels gave publicity spots to those who convened the demonstrations that supported the coup.” Moreover, the principal media owners in Venezuela assured Dictator Carmona, “We can’t guarantee the army’s loyalty, but we can promise the media’s support” (see “Coup and Counter-Coup,” The Economist Global Agenda, April 16, 2002).

The private media promoted all of the campaigns to discredit President Chavez and his policies. For example, during the petroleum industry sabotage of Christmas 2002-2003, more than 13,000 political propaganda advertisements were broadcast in a two month period in order to “animate an economically devastating and socially destabilizing general strike directed at overthrowing Chavez. (These ads) energetically promoted opposition leaders, while at the same time defaming the President and ignoring news that favored him” (see COHA Investigation Memorandum. The Venezuelan Media: More Than Words in Play,” Council on Hemispheric Affairs, Press Memorandum 03.18, April 30, 2003). However, despite all this, the openly conspiratorial media were not persecuted, neither then, nor now.

You are lying to your readers, Mister Diehl, when you say, “Beginning this month journalists or other independent activists accused by the government of the sort of offenses alleged by Izarra can be jailed without due process and sentenced to up to 30 years,” because you are confusing the law that protects children from obscenity in the broadcast media with the laws on national security and the President’s security, which are more strict in the United States.

US Code, Title 18, Section 871, “Threats against the President and presidential successors,” prohibits any offense or threat made against the President of the United States. Examples include July 2, 1996, when two people were arrested by the secret service for shouting insults at President Clinton (”You suck and those boys died…”) on the occasion of an attack against a military installation in Saudi Arabia in which 19 US soldiers died; or a minister who was arrested for saying “God will hold you to account” to President Clinton, concerning his decision not to prohibit a certain kind of abortion.

US Code, Title 18, Section 1752(a)(1)(ii) declares that it is a crime to intentionally enter a restricted zone during a presidential visit, and it has been used to arrest more than 1,800 demonstrators during the Republican Convention in August of 2004, despite the fact that the demonstrators were several blocks from President Bush’s location; it was also used to arrest a gentleman for carrying a sign against war on October 24, 2002, during Bush’s visit to Ohio; also arrested was a dead soldier’s mother for wearing an anti-war t-shirt during a speech by First Lady Laura Bush in New Jersey; and a couple in West Virginia was arrested for wearing anti-Bush t-shirts during a rally.

You know, Mister Diehl, that the Patriot Act together with an Executive Order give President Bush the power to determine when a person represents a threat to the United States. If the person is a US citizen, he can be detained for an indefinite length of time without rights, be declared an enemy of the state, and even lose his citizenship. If the person is not a US citizen, he can be detained without any rights and be brought before a secret military tribunal without anyone, not even his family members, finding out. If a foreigner in the US says that “Bush is the Devil,” he can be imprisoned and end up in Guantanamo.

Your interest in having people believe that in Venezuela, journalists are threatened like foreign agents, is understandable due to the number of agents that act as journalists, in both Venezuela and the US, to diffuse opinions concocted by the US State Department:

Declassified documents from the State Department (from the NGO National Security Archives) concerning the US Office of Public Diplomacy, managed by Otto Reich during the 1970's, demonstrate that the Washington Post was one of the newspapers used by the US government to spread its black propaganda against the Sandanista government. Washington Post journalist Marcela Sanchez publicly stated that in the months before the August 2004 presidential referendum, in which President Chavez was reaffirmed, (Roger) Noriega and others in the State Department visited the Washington Post’s editorial board in order to influence its reporting on that topic.

Or have you forgotten, Mister Diehl, that journalist Maggie Gallagher, who collaborated with the Washington Post, was accused of accepting money in exchange for supporting one of President Bush’s proposed Constitutional Amendments?

I can’t imagine, Mister Diehl, how you came up with the terms “without due process” and “summarily,” which you repeat in order to give the false impression of a dictatorial Venezuela that only exists in your imagination and in that crazy quilt of scraps that is your article. Surely, it will sound “ridiculous” to you, but now and for the first time in history, the press is more free in Venezuela than in the United States. Is that what bothers you, Mister Diehl?

It is not President Chavez’ fault that the Bush administration can control the globalized world with the same methods and the same men as in the 1970s. It’s not my fault if the Washington Post of Katherine Graham … which was an example for the world in the Watergate case … now acts as if it had been bought by the Nixon Family.

Instead of your incomplete, cartoonish, and malicious portrait of Venezuelan media and laws, I would have preferred to see, from a respectable “independent newspaper,” a balanced analysis of our informative landscape. But I think that it’s more likely that we’ll find out, in the not-so-distant future, that you too, Mister Diehl, receive money from the State Department.

Andres Izarra
Minister of Communication and Information Respuesta del Ministro Andrés Izarra
al diario Washington Post

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