Venezuela acts against paper because of crime photo

Censorship is being imposed on the Venezuelan newspaper El Universal aimed at banning information about violence and lack of safety in the South American country. The Inter American Press Association has protested that and also protested penalties applied to online distributors and the announcement of additional laws aimed at restricting news content.

The Venezuelan attorney general’s office has called on the courts to act against El Universal for “violating the rights of children and adolescents” after it published a photo on its front page Nov.  20 in which there was depicted a motionless arm and a blood stain on the floor, an image with which the newspaper alluded to the kidnapping and subsequent killing by criminals of a young engineer. The photo was posted on the Internet by other media with details.

The request to the courts seeks to prohibit “the publication of images, information and advertising of any kind with content of blood, weapons, messages of terror, physical aggression … that can affect the psychological well being of children.” It also asked for the application of a million-dollar fine on El Universal amounting to 1 or 2 per cent of its gross sales in 2012.

“We are concerned and alarmed at the legalization of censorship which is disguised with laws, decrees and legal actions, attempting to give the appearance that press freedom exists in the country,” said Claudio Paolillo, chairman of the press organization’s Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information.

Paolillo, editor of the Montevideo, Uruguay, weekly Búsqueda, said he had little doubt about the outcome of the El Universal case, considering the fine and censorship that had been applied to the Caracas newspapers El Nacional and Tal Cual over a photo published in 2010 in which dead bodies were seen piled up in a Caracas morgue.

He added that the government was not only seeking to maintain silence on the lack of safety but also the economic crisis the country is facing. He was referring to fines imposed Nov. 9 by the National Telecommunications Commission on nine online companies – CANTV, Movilnet, Movistar, Digitel, Inter, Supercable, NetUno, Ominivisón and Level 13 – for having posted Web sites “concerning foreign exchange rate quotations with amounts different to those officially established,” in violation of the Law on Social Responsibility on Radio, Television and Electronic Media, which prohibits “the dissemination of messages that encourage anxiety” and among other reasons that disrupt public order.

Paolillo also indicated that the press organization will remain alert following the recent announcement from various government sources on the plan for enactment in early 2014 of a Communication and Journalism Law to regulate news content even further.

On Oct. 7 President Nicolás Maduro created by decree the Strategic Center for the Security and Protection of the Fatherland with the objective of requesting, organizing, integrating and evaluating “information of interest for the nation’s strategic level, associated with the internal and external enemy activity, coming from all the security and intelligence bodies of the government and other public and private entities.”

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