The deterioration of press freedom guarantees in Venezuela increased with the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic, which means greater harassment of reporters during their coverage of vaccination days, and even for publishing data checks about the numbers of COVID-19 patients and deaths from the disease, said Pedro Vaca, special rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), during a meeting with the Foreign Press Association in the country.
According to Vaca, some of the ways to keep reporters from doing their job when verifying official information are to confiscate equipment, erase recordings, or detain them arbitrarily, factors that place Venezuela among the countries where exercising freedom of expression is difficult.
“The authorities, frequently, when they see the press, are not seeing an actor whom they want to embrace democratically, but rather an enemy,” said Vaca, a lawyer specializing in constitutional law.
The authorities, frequently, when they see the press, are not seeing an actor whom they want to embrace democratically, but rather an enemy,” Pedro Vaca, special rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.
The ruling that orders the newspaper El Nacional to compensate the Chavist congressman Diosdado Cabello after publishing information on a narcotrafficking investigation has exposed the weaknesses of the independent press in Venezuela.
Vaca warned that Venezuelan state officials make “stigmatizing statements” about journalists, which “encourages the authorities’ followers to take degrading actions against the press.” He added that public authorities, “without further evidence and further proof,” accuse press workers of conducting illegal activities.
The IACHR special rapporteur warned that these actions have consequences among reporters. “Many journalists may be thinking twice before publishing information of public interest. They might know more things than they feel free to say, and that is self-censorship,” he said.
However, Nicolás Maduro has accused some Venezuelan journalists of constituting what he describes as “media scoundrels,” intent on building a network of lies against his regime.
Meanwhile, the IACHR insists that there are elements that raise concerns among multilateral organizations, such as the 2020 killings of Andrés Eloy Nieves and Víctor Torres, reporters from the community media outlet La Guacamaya, in Cabimas, Zulia state, “in circumstances that have not yet been clarified,” as well as the arbitrary, hours-long detention of NTN24 reporters Luis Gonzalo Pérez and Rafael Hernández on March 31, 2021, while they were covering the displacement of citizens between Apure (Venezuela) and Arauquita (Colombia).
Vaca also said that the $30.5 million that El Nacional must pay for alleged “moral damage” to Cabello “is almost an announcement of extinction and symbolic censorship.”