Freedom of Expression

Press Release R116/19

The Office of the Special Rapporteur condemns closure of Radio Caracas Radio 750 AM, the censorship of television channels, restrictions on the Internet, and the arrest of journalists in Venezuela

May 15, 2019

Washington-D.C. - The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) condemns the closure of Radio Caracas Radio-750 AM and expresses its deep concern over the permanent censorship mechanisms imposed in Venezuela on traditional media and subscription television, platforms and social networks blocking, as well as restrictions on internet access. Within the framework of the protests that began on April 30, 2019 in Venezuela, the state authorities have also intensified the aggressions, detentions, and expulsion of foreign correspondents.

According to the information available, on April 30 during the coverage of the so-called "Operación Libertad" and the development of protests that day, Radio Caracas Radio 750 AM, the oldest private radio station in Venezuela, was notified of the immediate cessation of its operations by the National Telecommunications Commission (Conatel), pursuant to the refusal to authorize the renewal of their concession. The station had requested to renew its concession in 2002, but to date the request had never been answered. Civil society organizations reported that most of the private stations are operating under this modality –of provisional permission–, for which officials intimidate and control their journalistic line.

In addition, the Office of the Special Rapporteur learned that CNN in English and BBC Mundo were blocked on subscription television by order of Conatel. Both signals were blocked immediately after they broadcasted a video showing military tanks running over demonstrators in the city of Caracas. CNN and BBC would remain off the air, as well as the Spanish channels of most of the Latin American chains, blocked by state order since 2016.

In this regard, the Office of the Special Rapporteur has established that, although the State has the regulated attribution to administer the radioelectric spectrum, this attribution should never be used to pressure, reward, or punish a media based on its editorial line or its position with respect to the current government. The processes of adjudication, revocation, and renewal of licenses must be established by law and guided by objective, clear, impartial, and public criteria compatible with a democratic society; the process must be transparent; the decision that grants or denies the request must be duly motivated; and be subject to adequate judicial control.

"The closing of media as a punishment for maintaining a critical editorial line, as well as the blocking of signals to avoid access to information of public interest, arbitrarily suppresses the right of all Venezuelans to express themselves and receive plural information, and it also constitutes a form of censorship," said Edison Lanza, Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the IACHR.

The Office of the Special Rapporteur also received information that ABA CANTV, the state-owned Internet provider in Venezuela, would have blocked or restricted access to different websites and social networking platforms, including Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Likewise, access to YouTube and information search sites such as Google, Bing, and Periscope (live video service) would have been blocked or restricted. According to information of public knowledge, connectivity to internet services would have been reestablished intermittently, in particular, on May 1, at a time prior to a speech issued by Nicolás Maduro, and restricted again around the time when Juan Guaidó, President appointed by the National Assembly, would give a speech in Caracas. In addition, on May 7 the National Guard would have prevented access to accredited journalists to the Assembly’s session of the day.

The Office of the Special Rapporteur has emphasized that freedom of expression applies to the Internet in the same way as it does to all communication media, which is why restrictions and mandatory blocking of entire websites, IP addresses, ports, network protocols, or certain types of uses (such as social networks) is an extreme measure-analogous to the prohibition of a newspaper or a radio or television station. Such blockades or restrictions cannot be justified, not even for reasons of public order or national security, and cannot be used as censorship measures or as mechanisms to prevent access to information of the population.

On the other hand, the Office of the Special Rapporteur has received information on different restrictions to journalistic activity. In just one month, at least 10 journalists were injured while covering public demonstrations and several detained. Meanwhile, 11 journalists and foreign press correspondents were arrested and several of them expelled from the country.

The Office of the Special Rapporteur also denounces, with extreme seriousness, the situation of the broadcaster Junior Muñoz, detained on April 30 while reporting during a rally held in Punta de Mata, Monagas state. Muñoz is director and broadcaster of the station OStereo 99.7 FM of Punta de Mata and had a morning opinion program where he criticized Nicolás Maduro and his officials, including the mayor of Zamora, Raúl Brazón. The journalist to date remains in detention and has not been presented to a judge.

The Office of the Special Rapporteur recalls that the State has a duty to ensure that journalists and communicators who are working in the context of a public demonstration are not detained, threatened, assaulted, or limited in any way in their rights because they are exercising their profession. Their material and work tools should not be destroyed or confiscated by public authorities. The protection of the right to freedom of expression requires that the authorities ensure the necessary conditions so that journalists can cover notorious public interest events such as those related to social protests.

In this regard, the Office of the Special Rapporteur makes an urgent appeal to the authorities to reestablish the transmission of Radio Caracas Radio station and television channels removed from the air, and to cease all measures of censorship against the media in Venezuela. It also urges the Government to refrain from blocking and restricting access to websites and social networks, and to protect and guarantee the rights to life and integrity of the protesters and press communicators who cover said demonstrations. Finally, the Office of the Special Rapporteur urges the State to adopt all necessary measures to guarantee the exercise of the work of communicators in a free and independent manner, as well as to guarantee the right of access to information for the Venezuelan population.

The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression was created by the IACHR to encourage the defense of the right to freedom of thought and expression in the hemisphere, given the fundamental role this right plays in consolidating and developing the democratic system.