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Press Freedom Erodes In Venezuela

A delegation from the Inter-American Press Association, including representatives from the United States, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, and Chile, has returned from Venezuela. The visit was made because the organization has received numerous complaints against the government of President Hugo Chavez from its Venezuelan members. In a written statement, the association says "press freedom and free speech in Venezuela hav[e] deteriorated sharply."

Diane Daniels, vice-president of the Washington Post Company and president of the Inter-American Press Association, said Venezuelan officials refused to meet with the delegation. She said, "This attitude shows the lack of interest on the part of the government to seek solutions through dialogue, reflects intolerance of the independent press and its essential role in any democracy."

Gonzalo Marroquin, chairman of the association's Press Freedom Committee and a journalist in Guatemala, said that he and his colleagues "noticed a growing tendency to file libel suits against journalists, which," he said, "appears to indicate an attempt to silence independent journalists."

The Inter-American Press Association statement also expressed concern at coercive action taken against radio and televisions stations in Venezuela. The statement said broadcasters "have had to significantly cut back the amount of news they broadcast under terms of a law allowing [the] government to decide editorial content, staff hiring policies and set strict time limits on newscasts."

In June, another press advocacy group, the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders, issued a statement saying Venezuela "is paying a heavy price for the generalized climate of violence." That month Joaquin Tovar, editor of the weekly Venezuelan newspaper Ahora, [Now] was killed. In April, Jorge Aquire, a photographer with the El Mundo [The World] newspaper, was murdered.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said, "In Venezuela, the combination of new laws governing libel and broadcast media content, legal harassment against journalists, and physical intimidation has resulted in limitations on press freedoms and a climate of self-censorship." She says, "All free societies carry the responsibility to press restrictive governments to allow an open press."

The preceding was an editorial reflecting the views of the United States Government.