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An independent and free press is a vital element of any democracy, and the stifling of this freedom is of concern to the people of other nations as well as those being stifled. Recent events in Venezuela show a disregard for free expression, targeting both the press and its supporters, raising doubts about the government's commitment to a basic human right.
Police and protesters clashed in several Venezuelan cities after 6 cable television channels were taken off the air January 24. Two students were killed and several police officers injured amid scuffles between pro- and anti-government groups.
The Venezuelan government recently reclassified 24 cable TV channels as national, rather than international broadcasters. As such, they are expected to carry speeches by the president and other government announcements, as well as political campaign messages during election years.
When one station, RCTV International, refused to carry a government message, authorities ordered several cable providers to stop carrying the channel, charging that it had violated the law. When demonstrators marched on the headquarters of the state-run communications agency in the capital Caracas, police fired tear gas to break up the protest, which came amid rising tensions over Venezuela's double-digit inflation, electricity rationing, water shortages and crime.
Any time a government shuts down an independent network, it is an area of concern of the United States. The U.S. values a free and vibrant press within our own society and promotes that ideal abroad as well.
Venezuela should too, for as a member of the United Nations it has agreed to uphold the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which enshrines freedom of expression.