Freedom of Expression

Press Release R119/10


Nº R119/10



Washington D.C., December 8, 2010 – The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) expresses its concern regarding the possible intervention by the Venezuelan State in the television channel Globovisión by way of a public entity’s assumption of control of twenty percent of the company’s shares.

According to the information received, on Friday December 3rd, 2010, the Superintendence of Banks and Other Financial Institutions (SUDEBAN) published a resolution in the Official Gazette in which it resolved to dissolve the corporate entity Sindicato Ávila C.A., a company linked to Nelson Mezerhane’s Grupo Financiero Federal. The corporate entity in question owns twenty percent of the shares of Corpomedios GV Inversiones, the company that owns the Globovisión television channel. The dissolution of Sindicato Ávila C.A. could imply that the government would assume control of the company’s shares in Globovisión, enabling it to participate through its representatives in the company’s shareholders’ assembly.

The journalists and owners of Globovisión have been subjected to numerous acts of harassment and stigmatization as a result of the exercise of their freedom of expression. In particular, the liquidation measure which could give rise to the government’s intervention in Globovisión was preceded by repeated public manifestations by State officials at the very highest levels who made clear their repudiation of the editorial slant of Globovisión and clearly expressed their intention to intervene in the channel.

Indeed, on June 16, 2010, the President of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, Hugo Chávez Frías, questioned the fact that Globovisión shareholders Guillermo Zuloaga and Nelson Mezerhane, who face judicial proceedings initiated by the Venezuelan Public Prosecutor’s office, exercise control over the channel. The President, in a blanket presidential broadcast, observed that the government intervention in the companies of Nelson Mezerhane, which hold a percentage of the channel’s shares, entitled the government to appoint a representative to Globovisión’s board of directors.

On the same day, National Assembly member Carlos Escarrá of the Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela (United Socialist Party of Venezuela) appeared on the television program "La Hojilla" and said with regard to the judicial proceedings against Guillermo Zuloaga: "The State can very well request a precautionary measure granting it administration over the stock that Mr. Zuloaga has in Globovisión, which would make the State a majority shareholder in Globovisión. As a majority shareholder, I am not saying 55 percent, brother, (…) the State would have approximately 77 percent (…). It goes far beyond 55 per cent of this phantom company".

 Later, on July 2, 2010, the President, in a blanket presidential radio and television broadcast, spoke again about the television channel. "We will see who can hold out longer: the craziness of Globovisión or Venezuela". He added: "We will have to think about what will happen with that channel (…) because the owners are fleeing from justice. And I call for those who are in charge of the channel, not its owners, those who are in charge, obeying instructions from the hidden fugitive owners, those who are trying to destabilize the country on behalf of the owners… It is very dangerous to allow a television channel to burn a country down; we can’t allow that".

On November 20, 2010, President Hugo Chávez gave an interview to television channel Venezolana de Televisión. He accused Guillermo Zuloaga of organizing a criminal conspiracy to kill him, and he called on Vice-President Elías Jaua, the Attorney General and the Supreme Court to take all the necessary measures to intervene in Globovisión if Guillermo Zuloaga did not return to Venezuela. The President said: "Something has to be done. Either the owner comes to defend his property, to show his face, as it should be, or something has to be done regarding that station". One day later, the President repeated his call and said that it was necessary to intervene in Globovisión because it was a station managed by citizens that were under investigation by the judiciary, a station that keeps "firing lead every day against the government, the people, disfiguring the truth… This government and the State of Venezuela have to do something about it!"

In response to these statements, on November 22, 2010, the Office of the Special Rapporteur asked the State of Venezuela for information regarding, among other issues, the evidence that supports the President’s accusations against Guillermo Zuloaga, and whether any measures had been adopted against TV channel Globovisión. On November 24, 2010, the State of Venezuela responded and stated that "until now, no action has been taken against Globovisión, because each and every one of the constitutionally established branches of government are independent from one other, hence, the simple public statements made by the President are not orders with which other branches must abide". The State added that the statements made by the President were part of his freedom of expression.

On November 23, 2010, in a ceremony held in the Salón Elíptico of the National Assembly that was broadcast nationally on radio and television, the President, in reference to the need to "radicalize the revolution," said that the State could not remain quiet while Guillermo Zuloaga was going to the "Congress of the empire to attack Venezuela and still has a television channel here."

On December 3, 2010, a decision taken on November 16 was made public. According to that decision, the State could take control and administer a percentage of the shares of the company that owns the television channel Globovisión.

State intervention in a television channel whose editorial posture is uncomfortable for the State with the purpose of influencing its content is prohibited by Article 13 of the American Convention, which in subsection 3 states that "the right of expression may not be restricted by indirect methods or means, such as the abuse of government or private controls over newsprint, radio broadcasting frequencies, or equipment used in the dissemination of information, or by any other means tending to impede the communication and circulation of ideas and opinions."

Similarly, Principle 13 of the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights sets out that the exercise of power by the state with the intent to put pressure on and punish social communicators and communications media "because of the opinions they express threaten[s] freedom of expression […]. The [communication media] have the right to carry out their role in an independent manner. Direct or indirect pressures exerted upon journalists or other social communicators to stifle the dissemination of information are incompatible with freedom of expression."

The Office of the Special Rapporteur calls upon the State of Venezuela to comply with the most stringent international standards regarding freedom of expression so as to fully ensure the right of the television channel Globovisión to exercise, without undue interference by the government or arbitrary pressure, the right to free expression as well as the right to integrity and personal security, to due process and to a fair and impartial trial of the station’s journalists and owners.