In Venezuela, The Journalists Fight Back

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on August 5, 2009

There is no dispute in Hugo Chavez’s country over the fact that he is a dictator. His actions against the remaining vestiges of an independent media make that clear. Thus, it is comforting to read that Venezuelan journalists are not going to take Chavez’s depredations lying down:

Venezuela’s journalist association urged the nation’s top prosecutor to resign Wednesday for proposing legislation to punish yet-to-be defined “media crimes.”

Lawmakers say the bill suggested by Attorney General Louisa Ortega has not yet been drafted. But Roger Santodomingo, the journalist association’s secretary-general, warned “it could reappear at any moment with all its perverse intent to criminalize journalism.”

“We’re asking her to resign, because the person meant to defend the law can’t propose a law that is fundamentally unconstitutional,” Santodomingo told reporters.

Last week, Ortega called on lawmakers to punish media that cause “panic” or present a “false perception of the facts.” She urged the National Assembly, which is controlled by allies of President Hugo Chavez, to take her suggestions into account as they consider a new law.

Pro-Chavez lawmaker Manuel Villalba denied Tuesday that the assembly is discussing the bill. He said nothing tangible even exists, aside from the “ideas” proposed by Ortega.

Chavez, who previously called on Ortega, the telecommunications chief and the Supreme Court to take action against “poisonous” media that he accuses of conspiring against him, said Wednesday he was unaware Ortega was proposing the law.

The president said the attorney general and the others are “autonomous” powers. “I’m not going to offer my opinion,” he said. “Leave the powers to act.”

Given everything we have recently seen in terms of stories coming out of Venezuela, why on Earth would we believe that Hugo Chavez doesn’t have a pronounced interest in writing legislation defining and outlawing certain forms of media “crimes”? It should be plain as day by now that Chavez lusts for the opportunity to shut down his critics. It is reassuring to see that those critics in the media won’t stand for it.

The question, of course, is whether they will be able to hold out against the state for very long.

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