El Nuevo Herald
October 02 2008
Media outlets and journalists critical of the Venezuelan government have come under attack, sometimes violently, in the past two weeks.
A recent wave of attacks against media outlets in Venezuela seems to be increasing , as regional elections scheduled for November draw near. The attacks range from conspiracy accusations aimed at media owners to the harassment of journalists at airports and even violent protests and explosions.
Within the past two weeks, top executives from major media outlets were accused of plotting a coup and assassination attempt against President Hugo Chávez; an influential columnist was targeted by hired gunmen in the southern state of Bolivar, and almost the entire staff of a radio station in Carabobo state were pressured out of their jobs by the local pro-Chávez candidate.
And last weekend, two gunmen shot Eliecer Calzadilla, a columnist and lawyer of the daily newspaper in Bolivar state, El Correo del Caroní, who has been critical of the government.
Calzadilla survived the attack .
But various organizations have called for an investigation, including the Venezuelan National School of Journalists and Reporters Without Borders.
In another violent episode recently, a tear gas canister exploded inside the headquarters of the Globovisión television network, one of the media outlets that has been most outspoken against the government.
Also last week, three influential radio and television personalities said they had been accosted and threatened by government authorities upon returning to Maiquetia International Airport from trips abroad.
Miguel Henrique Otero, the editor of the Caracas daily El Nacional, who also is involved with a movement that advocates for a more democratic society, said that the ''persecution'' against private and independent media outlets is a ''smoke screen'' to cover several scandals that have recently tarnished the government's image.
''It is a government policy against media, against the right to information,'' said Alfredo Jordan, a former politician and journalist who supported Chávez as a member of the government's Movimiento V Republica party, or MVR , but subsequently parted ways.
Jordan questioned the response by the government to last-week's bombing incident at Globovisión, criticizing the justification given by the Venezuelan minister of the interior, Tarek El Aissami, who stated that the attack was due to Globovisión's being a conspiratorial network.
Prior to the attack, Chávez had accused the network and its owner, Alberto Ravell, of being part of a complex conspiracy to remove him from office and then murder him.
Chávez claimed that ''media oligarchs,'' such as the owners of the El Nacional and El Universal dailies, also participated in the plot to overthrow him.
''It is the empire that is behind this, looking for the way to stop our revolution and with that, strike out against all of the processes of change that are occurring in our America, in the Caribbean, in Central America,'' said Chávez in denouncing the alleged conspiracy.
The Venezuelan president's accusations were repeated by his minister of information, Andres Izarra, who stated that large media outlets in Venezuela are engaged in the alleged plans to assassinate Chávez.
''There are large media outlets involved in this,'' Izarra said.
''It is unacceptable to constantly use the argument of a coup against the government to gag, intimidate and even threaten all of the press that is critical of the government,'' Reporters Without Borders said in a statement.