Freedom of Expression

Press Release 68/03


The Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression, Eduardo Bertoni, observes with serious concern the initiation of administrative procedures, promoted by the Ministry of Infrastructure, against various television channels in Venezuela.  These proceedings are based on law that is inconsistent with the exercise of freedom of expression and could lead to punishment in the form of revocation of the administrative authorization or concession granted to various companies to provide telecommunications services.  

            According to reports, on Wednesday, February 5, officials of the Ministry of Infrastructure appeared at Venevisión channel headquarters to give notice of an administrative investigation proceeding instituted on the grounds of alleged violations of Article 171 of the Telecommunications Act and Article 53 of the Radiocommunications Regulations.  This proceeding is in addition to others instituted under the same regulations against the Globovisión, RCTV, and Televen channels.  The Rapporteur reported that, on January 23, he communicated with the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Roy Chaderton, to express his concern over the initiation of administrative proceedings of this sort and to request official information on the grounds for these actions.  To date, the Rapporteur has not received a reply, although he has received reports of public statements at the highest levels of government that television stations might be closed in the near future. 

The Rapporteur will continue to monitor the progress of these proceedings until their conclusion.  However, it is a matter of concern that they have been instituted on the basis of law that is inconsistent with international standards of freedom of expression. Article 53 of Venezuela’s Radiocommunications Regulations provides, inter alia, that: "It is absolutely forbidden to transmit from radio broadcast stations: (...) j) False, misleading, or biased statements or reports."   The Rapporteur has said repeatedly that the right to information includes all information, including that which, rather than truthful, may be "erroneous," "ill-advised," or "incomplete," precisely because the wide-ranging discussion and exchange of ideas is the appropriate way to search for the truth. Imposing, before the fact, the requirement that only the truth be reported, when in many cases the question of what is true is highly subjective, precludes the necessary discussion by which to seek that truth.  The "truthful" information doctrine represents a step backward for freedom of expression in the Hemisphere, since the free flow of information would be limited by qualifications before the fact, something that is inconsistent with the broad interpretation given this right in the inter-American system.  In these cases the television channels would also be accused of other violations of the Regulations, among them expressions that incite “disrespect of legitimate institutions and authorities” (Article 53.c of the Regulations).  The punishment of such types of expression is inconsistent with the American Convention on Human Rights, according to arguments in the jurisprudence of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights since the publication of its report on the incompatibility of desacato (“insult”) laws with the Convention. 

Lastly, the Rapporteur has stated on various occasions that use by the state of law contrary to the freedom of expression is a serious impediment to democracy-building, since it prevents the free discussion of ideas and opinions.  The Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression recalls that Article 13 of the American Convention on Human Rights, to which Venezuela is a party, establishes that the right to freedom of expression "includes freedom to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas of all kinds, (...)".   

Washington D.C., February 6, 2003