Venezuela: \'Media terorrism\' condemned

Journalists, communications specialists and other participants in a Caracas conference during the March 29-30 weekend demanded that political leaders in the region put the issue of "media terrorism" on the agenda of all international forums and meetings in which they participate.

The Latin American Meeting Against Media Terrorism issued the "Caracas Declaration", endorsed by participants from 14 countries.

The declaration denounced the role of the corporate media in the toppling of democratic governments across the region. In Venezuela, the private media was intimately involved in a 2002 coup that briefly toppled the left-wing government of President Hugo Chavez. Information should be conceived as a right to be collectively provided, rather than as a commodity to be sold, conference participants resolved.

A number of international journalists at the meeting shared the vision of Puerto Rican journalist Nelson del Castillo for a strengthened network of professional press correspondents across Latin America who actively counteract media terror.

The National Association of Free, Alternative, Communitarian Media (ANMCLA) expressed solidarity with the Venezuelan government, but also proposed deep changes in the current communications order. In a document published on the first day of the conference, the organisation said that Venezuela's Telecommunications Law, which was written by the National Telecommunications Commission (CONATEL) and passed in 2000, relegates alternative media to an unacceptably marginal status.

ANMCLA proposed changing the law so that a "public system of communication, not state-run and not private, in the hands of popular communities, forms a structural part" of national communications.

The group also advocated that 33.3% of the radio and television frequencies in Venezuela and a third of the government's publicity budget should be directed to community-based and alternative media, with the other two-thirds divided equally between state-controlled and private media.

Finally, ANMCLA said that a new tax should be levied on private media to help pay for the expansion of alternative media. ANMCLA also argued that the means of communication should be managed by an assembly of local community representatives, rather than a few government functionaries.

ANMCLA categorically rejected the presence in Venezuela of the Inter-American Press Association (IAPA), which also held its conference in Caracas during the March 29-30 weekend.

The final report of the IAPA conference condemned the government of Venezuela for its "constant intimidating threats" and violations of the "human rights of journalists". The association demanded that Chavez cease his "hostility" toward the private media.

According to ANMCLA, the IAPA is "an organism of the oligarchy, tool of the hegemonic project of capitalism that hides the oligarchic and transnational concentration of the largest means of communication on the continent behind the facade of the defence of freedom of expression".

Many participants in the meeting against media terrorism argued that the IAPA has an intensely ideological project to support the interests of big business worldwide. "In many countries the owners of the media are also property holders in large banks … some pertain to the military industrial complex", asserted the director of the Bolivarian News Agency (ABN), Freddy Fernandez, a principal organiser of the media terrorism conference.

The IAPA has a long history of support for murderous Latin American dictators since the organisation was founded in 1943 in Havana, during the reign of US-backed Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista.

While the meeting against media terrorism was being held in Caracas, CONATEL hosted a "Bolivarian forum" for more than 30 alternative community media outlets in the western state of Trujillo. The forum was aimed at assessing the progress of community media and strengthening the capacity of these outlets to serve the needs of their communities.

Hector Reyes, the director of technological assistance to local media, said the goal of the forum was "to achieve a mutual commitment between the institution and the community media".

A second community media forum in Trujillo is planned for later this year in order to discuss changes to the Telecommunications Law and the Law on Social Responsibility in Radio and Television, as well as a march for this cause organised by ANMCLA.

[Abridged from]

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