Journalists under attack from "pro-coup rogue police forces" in Venezuelain

Fred Feldman ffeldman at bellatlantic.net
Wed Aug 7 17:09:33 MDT 2002


[ part II ]


But first, I would like to explain why the question of whether Community
Media journalists are defended is related to a larger global phenomenon in
which your organization and others like it has been asleep at the wheel.

Since 1999, beginning with the World Trade Organization protests in Seattle
and continuing regularly during similar anti-globalization protests
throughout the world - in Davos, Genoa, Cancún and other cities - there has
been a systematic series of violent attacks and jailings of journalists,
photojournalists and video-journalists who have covered those
demonstrations. These attacks have been extensively documented, photographed
and filmed and published on the more than 90 Internet sites of
www.indymedia.org throughout the world. But the Reporters Without Border,
despite the systematic and repeat nature of these attacks on journalists,
has been, to my knowledge, silent in the defense of these journalists.

I urge you to address this issue with total seriousness: These attacks
against Indymedia journalists are systematic and have enjoyed a savage
impunity, in part, because authorities know that the major international
press freedom organizations like Reporters Without Borders have not spoken
loudly or clearly against them. These attacks will likely continue during
every anti-globalization protest to come until the press-freedom
organizations end your silence on them.

One of the root causes of these attacks has to do with a conflict within
journalism. Typically, during the global meetings of the World Trade
Organization and similar groups, a caste system of credentialing journalists
has resulted: Journalists for commercial news organizations are accredited
and my practice their work with the usual assumption of safety and
protection. But independent media journalists are not accredited by these
organizations and governments, and thus are left in the streets with the
demonstrators, often beaten or jailed precisely because they are present
with cameras or tape-recorders or pen-and-paper. They are specifically
singled out for violent beatings and imprisonment because they are
journalists.

The commercial news organizations, by and large, are in favor of this
State-enforced "caste system" among journalists for obvious and interested
motives: The credentialing of commercial journalists only at such global
news events gives commercial news organizations a competitive advantage,
indeed, a monopoly, on coverage of the deliberations inside these gatherings
where governments and industry meet, often deciding questions of great
public importance.

Thus, the very act of refusing to credential non-profit, community,
independent or Internet journalists causes danger and harm to many of us, as
has been documented time and time again during each of these events.

My questions regarding this matter are:

11. Should Reporters Without Borders address and denounce the exclusion of
non-profit, independent, community and Internet journalists from press
credentials by governments and trade organizations as threats upon press
freedom?

I remind that the single-greatest determinative factor in whether a
journalist covering one of these world trade gatherings is beaten, jailed or
harmed is whether the journalist has been denied credentials to cover the
event on the inside. The question of credentialing of journalists, thus, is
a serious matter of the safety of journalists: Those left outside in the
streets to cover the event are placed at risk and in harm's way.

A related question:

12. Will Reporters Without Borders, now that this matter has been brought to
your attention, assign part of its 20-member staff to monitor and
investigate these predictable attacks during future world trade meetings and
anti-globalization protests?

This can be easily begun with the simple commitment to monitor reports on
www.indymedia.org and similar websites as these events are happening. The
archives of these sites, in fact, contain the documentary evidence,
including photographs, videotapes, audiotapes and eyewitness testimony, of
the systematic attacks that have already occurred.

But back the immediate issues surrounding press freedom in Venezuela:
Much of your organization's concern has been misplaced in that you are
apparently confusing criticism of the commercial media - the use of speech
to counter speech, which many of us who are journalists believe is a sacred
right, even for elected officials - with "attacks" on press freedom.

In your 2002 Annual Report, you wrote:

President Hugo Chávez continued his attacks on the media in 2001. In
February, describing himself as close to the poor, he accused "a group of
four or five people who have accumulated money and media power over the
years" of leading a "conspiracy" not to report on his government's
successes. At a ceremony a few days earlier, he had shouted : "Down with
journalists and capitalism." In January, he charged that Miguel Henrique
Otero, managing editor of the daily El Nacional, was playing into the hands
of "perverted interests" after the journalist had accused him of building up
personal power. The media, which has become virtually the only voice of
regular opposition after the eclipse of the traditional political parties
discredited after 40 years in power, responded by joining a general strike
on 10 December against Chávez' policies led by employers and trade unions.

That you would call equate the sacred right of the use of free speech with
"attacks" on the media is hypocritical on your organization's part.
The commercial media deserves such criticism, and particularly in Venezuela,
where the major national dailies and broadcast networks do not abide by even
the most basic traditions of ethical and fair journalism.

You speak of the "eclipse of traditional political parties" in a manner that
conveniently overlooks the fact that the people voted them out. They no
longer represented the majority. They only represented the wealthy. And
when, as you note, the commercial media attempts to step into the role of
representing the wealthy - even to the extent of promoting and cheering a
violent coup d'etat - you have displayed the very same contempt for the
people from below and their sovereign rights to choose their own
governments. If there is no serious political opposition in Venezuela, it is
precisely because its constituency can only be measured in dollars, but not
in votes.

What you at Reporters Without Borders are denouncing here is speech itself:
and I, for one, don't believe I am at all alone in wondering how a
press-freedom organization could engage in such an Orwellian discourse, so
harmful to the bedrock principles of free speech and press freedom.

By its active role in the deterioration of the free speech rights of all the
people, the commercial media has merely manufactured a boomerang upon its
own rights: I should not have lecture experts in "press freedom" about this
dynamic - your organization has, in words, said the same thing, but in deeds
has not complied with your self-stated mission.

The commercial media, not just in Venezuela but especially in Venezuela, has
denied voice to the majority of citizens, particularly the poor majority,
and thus frozen them out of the public discourse. Instead, it has reserved
access to the airwaves only by the wealthiest sectors - in Latin America,
these sectors are accurately known as the oligarchy - but nonetheless the
public found a superior medium through which to speak: fair and free
elections.

I need not remind your organization that prior to the 1998 landslide
election of Chávez as president of Venezuela, and the five subsequent
elections in which, in each vote, the public backed his programs and allies
overwhelmingly, that Venezuela, under its old regimes, was a more dangerous
country for journalists than it is today by every measure.

According to the 1991-1992 annual report of PROVEA, Venezuela's leading
human rights group, in that year there were 125 distinct attacks upon
individual journalists in that country: physical beatings, interference,
threats, legal persecution, raids, seizures, imprisonment, and firings of
journalists specifically related to their work as journalists. In that year,
the front pages of the nation's newspapers would regularly have entire
sections blocked out and marked "CENSURADO," censored, because governmental
authorities ordered that specific stories not be published.

Before the Bolivarian Constitution of 1999, which guarantees press freedom
in that country to a degree that never existed prior, there were laws on the
books that expressly forbade freedom of the press: the 1940
Telecommunications Act allowing for prior censorship, by the government, of
every media; harsh penalties for any reporter who does not reveal his
confidential sources to the government; a code of military and government
secrecy; later came the 1994 law requiring that any citizen, to legally
practice journalism, must have a college degree (which, in a poor country
with a terrible education system was akin to a ban on press freedom by the
majority of its citizens). There was a law on "state secrets" that stated
"national administrative public records are, by their nature, reserved for
official use."

Today, as a direct result of the choices, democratically made, by the
majority of Venezuela's citizens, there is more press freedom than ever
existed in Venezuela. Until last month, when the pro-coup forces unjustly
arrested journalist Nicolás Rivera, not a single journalist was in prison in
Venezuela under the Chávez government.

I am a journalist who has spoken, face to face, with hundreds of members of
the public on all sides of the political disputes in Venezuela -
specifically to investigate issues of press freedom, the behavior of the
media (commercial and community journalists alike) and public attitudes
about the press - and I tell you: Reporters Without Borders is so inaccurate
and wrong on this matter that it has undermined its own credibility as a
defender of press freedom.

The "undermining" of the "credibility of the press" in Venezuela has one
author and one author only: The commercial press has undermined its own
credibility. As a class, the commercial media in Venezuela, and particularly
in the capital city of Caracas, is the shoddiest, most unprofessional, most
inaccurate, most anti-pluralistic, and most un-credible regional media in
the entire hemisphere, perhaps save that in Paraguay. To blame that on
Chávez, as Reporters Without Borders and others have done, is insulting to
the Venezuelan public. It reverses the process of which came first:
Undermined press credibility or Chávez? CPJ states that Chávez is the cause
of undermined press credibility. Today I inform you that he is not the
cause, but, rather, the result of it. And when he criticizes the corrupt
behavior of the media in that country, he truly represents the views of a
majority of the public that elected him, in part, to be a bulwark against
the abuses by the commercial media.

The portrayal of the public as led around by the nose by its elected leader
is elitist and hostile to democratic values, and as a journalist and as a
citizen I expect more from an organization that claims to protect
journalists and press freedom. At very least, I - and others like me -
expect a considered exploration of both sides of the Venezuela story, and
not the one-sided interested fictional account that Reporters Without
Borders has offered.

Impunity is a word that all of us who seek to defend press freedom must
report on. I beg of you and your staff at Reporters Without Borders to
consider - and correct - the impunity that you have provided to the true
usurpers of press freedom in Venezuela by your willful abandonment of the
real journalists at risk in the Community Media of that country, and your
unquestioning endorsement of the statements of interested and corrupted
members of the commercial media who, during those three days in April 2002,
demonstrated their hostility to the democratic and free-speech principles
that your organization has attributed to them.

Your organization, in its drumbeat of inaccurate statements about Venezuela,
and in the way you have shirked your role as defender of the truly
threatened, and now imprisoned, journalists there, has done a great
disservice to the very cause you claim to champion.

Unfortunately, if the rank-and-file public and its elected leaders of
Venezuela or other countries told you this, you would probably accuse them
of threatening your freedom of speech, as you have disingenuously and
repeatedly claimed when the public has fought bad speech with more speech.

However, I remind you, this critique comes from a journalist, one who has
had to defend, more than most, his own press freedom, who has won important
legal rights for all journalists as a result, and who reflects the views of
a great many authentic journalists and community media workers. We are now
going to have this discussion within our profession: Journalists to
journalists and speaking, in open public view, to the organizations that
claim to protect us. It is not only our right, but our duty, to clean up our
own profession, and to do it using the very weapon that we hold sacred:
Speech.

Welcome to the dialogue. I hope you will enter it and answer each of the 12
questions above in a spirit of full disclosure, self-criticism and
self-correction.

Your organization, in its behavior regarding Venezuela and its abandonment
of persecuted journalists who don't agree with your inaccurate and
interested assessment of what has occurred there, has done great harm to the
very principles you are organized to defend.
It is time for you, Mr. Ménard, as an individual, and for every member of
your staff and board of directors to do some soul-searching about your role.

You could start by protecting Nicolás Rivera and the Community Media
journalists of Venezuela, in accordance with your own stated mission and
rules, and by answering my 12 questions for you, which I will repeat, as
addendum, below, for your convenience.

Sincerely,

Al Giordano
Publisher
The Narco News Bulletin
http://www.narconews.com/
narconews at hotmail.com

12 Questions for Reporters Without Borders:

1. Will Reporters Without Borders, now having been informed of a different
set of facts than your organization has so far admitted, investigate and
denounce the illegal detentions of radio journalists Nicolás Rivera of Radio
Perola, and Jorge Quintero and Lenín Méndez of Radio Senderos?

2. Will Reporters Without Borders address the root cause of these attacks:
the existence of rogue police forces and coup-plotters that enjoy a
particular kind of impunity precisely because they are supported by the
commercial media corporations of Venezuela?

3. Will Reporters Without Borders finally denounce the illegal raids and
threats on April 11th, 12th and 13th 2002 by the Carmona dictatorship
against Radio Perola, Radio Catia Libre, TV Catia and Radio Fé y Alegría
(broadcaster of the Catholic Church)?

4. Will Reporters Without Borders finally denounce the April coup attempt -
and any future coup attempts in Venezuela or against any democratically
elected government on earth - as a prima facie threat to press freedom?

5. Will Reporters Without Borders consider a public apology to the Community
Media journalists of Venezuela, and to the public at large, for having been
"asleep at the wheel" in not having denounced the coup d'etat as it was
happening last April, and make the internal organizational corrections to
ensure that this kind of negligence by a press-freedom organization will
never happen again during a time of crisis?

6. Of particular interest to those of us who are Internet journalists (and
of obvious personal interest to Narco News and me): Does Reporters Without
Borders embrace the case law established by the New York Supreme Court in
December 2001 in the case of Banco v. Menéndez et al, which established, A.
a higher standard upon Plaintiffs in libel lawsuits for establishing
jurisdiction on foreign journalists in U.S. courts, and; B. the landmark
ruling that extended First Amendment protections (under Sullivan v. NY
Times) in the United States to Internet journalists if we engage in
responsible and basic journalistic practices?

7. Will Reporters Without Borders investigate and denounce the censorship by
all of the commercial television stations in Venezuela on April 12th and
13th 2002 against their own journalists, that - nobody today disputes that
there was a news blackout - prevented their own journalists from reporting
the facts about the counter-coup by Civil Society against the
military-installed dictatorship of those days?

8. Will Reporters Without Borders investigate and denounce the threats by
Miguel Angel Martínez of the Chamber of Radio Broadcasters to "interfere"
with the frequencies of Community radio and TV broadcasters utilizing the
technology and equipment of the commercial broadcasters affiliated with his
organization?

9. Will Reporters Without Borders investigate and denounce the forced
closure of Channel 8 - the public television network in Venezuela - by the
Carmona dictatorship in April 2002 and the complete silence by the
commercial media about this threat upon a public media outlet?

10. What is Reporters Without Borders' position on the participation by
commercial news gathering organizations such as the daily El Nacional and
the daily La Hora in Venezuela in censoring their own pages last April 9th
in order to join a politically-partisan "national strike" that - it is clear
to everyone, in retrospect - had the goal of provoking the April 11th coup
d'etat?

11. Should Reporters Without Borders address and denounce the exclusion of
non-profit, independent, community and Internet journalists from press
credentials by governments and trade organizations as threats upon press
freedom?

12. Will Reporters Without Borders, now that this matter has been brought to
your attention, assign part of its 20-member staff to monitor and
investigate these predictable attacks during future world trade meetings and
anti-globalization protests?

Read Part I of This Series:

http://www.narconews.com/communitymedia1.html

Lea Ud. Parte I en Español:

http://www.narconews.com/medioscomunitarios1.html

Read Our Letter to the Committee to Protect Journalists:

http://www.narconews.com/cpjletter1.html

Read Our Letter to the Interamerican Press Association:

http://www.narconews.com/iapaletter1.html

For More Narco News:

http://www.narconews.com/




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