Mar 28/05 - On a superb OpEd on press censorship by Jackson Diehl, The Washington Psot
PMBComment: over the years you have read me repeatedly praising the Washington Post for its consistent and principled editorial coverage of the destruction of
If after reading this article you still believe there is a hope for democracy in Venezuela with Chavez legislating through sycophants and misappropriating state funds to ensure political survival, then I have a job for you at the head of the Carter Center now that it’s homonymous former - and failed - US President has chosen to step aside.
Hats off to Jackson and the Post for calling a spade a spade in a town were some are still swayed by superficial evidence or its alter ego: lobbyists’ true love. PMB
Where 'Disrespect' Can Land You in Jail
By Jackson Diehl*
Monday, March 28, 2005; Page A17
One of the journalists libeled by Izarra pointed out that he had no evidence to back up his accusations. According to the newspaper El Universal, that inspired the following outburst, in Spanish, from the cabinet minister: "Mister gringo, be sure that we are going to come back to defeat you . . . because we work with the truth, we have spirit and above all something very special, a leader who unites and inspires us, the commandante Chavez!"
It's easy to laugh at such buffoonery if, like me, you have the privilege of working for an independent newspaper in a capital where demagogues such as Izarra aren't taken seriously. In
To be sure, much of the Venezuelan media has aggressively opposed Chavez's populist "Bolivarian revolution," though not without reason: The former coup-plotting colonel is well on his way to destroying what was once the most stable and prosperous democracy in
The first step was a new media content law, adopted by the Chavez-controlled legislature last December, that subjects broadcast media to heavy fines or the loss of their licenses for disseminating information deemed "contrary to national security." Its impact was soon felt: Two of the most prominent anti-government journalists lost their jobs as anchors on morning television shows, and Venezuelans quickly noticed the appearance of self-censorship among those who remained.
Ten days ago Chavez handed Izarra a still-bigger stick: a new penal code that criminalizes virtually any expression to which the government objects -- not only in public but also in private.
Start with Article 147: "Anyone who offends with his words or in writing or in any other way disrespects the President of the Republic or whomever is fulfilling his duties will be punished with prison of 6 to 30 months if the offense is serious and half of that if it is light." That sanction, the code implies, applies to those who "disrespect" the president or his functionaries in private; "the term will be increased by a third if the offense is made publicly."
There's more: Article 444 says that comments that "expose another person to contempt or public hatred" can bring a prison sentence of one to three years; Article 297a says that someone who "causes public panic or anxiety" with inaccurate reports can receive five years. Prosecutors are authorized to track down allegedly criminal inaccuracies not only in newspapers and electronic media, but also in e-mail and telephone communications.
The new code reserves the toughest sanctions for journalists or others who receive foreign funding, such as the election monitoring group Sumate, which has been funded in part by the National Endowment for Democracy. Venezuelans or foreigners living in the country can be punished with a 10- to 15-year sentence for receiving foreign support that "can prejudice the
Chavez and his propaganda apparatus don't feel compelled to live by their own rules. The president has directed crude epithets at President Bush and even more vulgar sexual innuendo at Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. His government has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to fund Americans in the
2005 The Washington Post Company
* About This Columnist
Jackson Diehl, deputy editorial editor, has been a writer and editor at the Post since 1978. He has worked as a foreign correspondent in Latin America, Central Europe and the