August 23, 2010 - Updated on January 20, 2016

Blow against impunity offset by continuing censorship of two dailies

Reporters Without Borders welcomes the news that Walid Makled, a member of a powerful business family in the central state of Carabobo and the presumed instigator of the January 2009 murder of journalist Orel Sambrano, was arrested in the Colombian city of Cúcuta on 20 August on a range of charges including drug trafficking. We hope the Colombian authorities will quickly grant Venezuela’s extradition request so that he can be tried for Sambrano’s murder as well as for the other charges be faces. A former policeman has been convicted of carrying out the murder, while two other persons have been arrested. The editor of the political weekly ABC, vice-president of privately-owned Radio América 890 AM and a columnist for the regional daily Notitarde, Sambrano was gunned down in Carabobo on 16 January 2009 after daring to denounce the Makled family’s business activities. Impunity has been dealt a significant blow in this case. The achievements of both police and judicial authorities in investigating this murder and bringing it to trial have shown that society does not have to be defenceless against violent crime, a major issue in the campaign for the 26 September parliamentary elections. Politically and juridically, the censorship imposed on the dailies El Nacional and Tal Cual after they published a photo of bodies piled up in the Caracas morgue to illustrate the problem of violent crime now appears more absurd than ever. Why are the authorities trying to prevent a debate on this issue? The Caracas special court for the protection of children and adolescents meanwhile announced on 19 August that the ruling it issued three days earlier, banning all newspapers from publishing any “violent, bloody or grotesque” images that could affect young people, applies only to El Nacional and Tal Cual. The ban had initially applied only to the two newspapers that had published the offending photo but it had been quickly extended to all newspapers and to all types of content, not just photos. Reporters Without Borders reiterates its view that the photo published in El Nacional on 13 August and reprinted in Tal Cual was shocking. But the partial censorship of these two newspapers a month before a parliamentary election dominated by the subject of violent crime is the worst possible solution. It is both repressive and discriminatory. (photo : Juan Barreto/AFP) ------------------------------------ 18.08.10 - Court bans ‘‘violent'' content after daily publishes controversial morgue photo A special court for the protection of children and adolescents yesterday banned the Caracas-based daily El Nacional from publishing any “violent, bloody or grotesque” images that could affect young people after it printed a photo of bodies piled up in a Caracas morgue in its 13 August issue to illustrate the heavy toll from violent crime. The same photo was also used by Tal Cual, a daily which, like El Nacional, is very critical of the government. The court also issued an order to El Nacional and the rest of the Venezuelan print media to stop publishing “images, reports and publicity of any type that contain blood, guns, terrifying messages or physical attacks, images that incorporate warfare content and messages about killings and deaths that could upset the psychological well-being of children and adolescents." “The photo was indeed very shocking and raises questions about this big-circulation newspaper’s sense of responsibility even if it is not a publication aimed at young people,” Reporters Without Borders said. “But this court order is much too broad and imprecise. What are the exact criteria for deciding if something affects the psychological well-being of children or adolescents? Would the photo of an armed policeman in the street, a soldier on manoeuvres or a death notice be in breach of this order?” The press freedom organisation added: “A caricature is by definition ‘grotesque.’ Does that mean caricatures cannot be shown to young people? It is normal to reserve certain content and media for an adult audience, but discussion, education and prevention seem preferable to a hasty ban that is liable to result in censorship and self-censorship.” The court order’s imprecision echoes the imprecision of the 2004 Radio and TV Social Responsibility Law (Ley Resorte), of which article 29 provides for sanctions against broadcast media that “promote, condone or incite war (and) “promote, condone or incite public order disturbances.” El Nacional reported yesterday that the ban was valid for one month, which means it will be in force for the duration of the campaign preceding the 26 September parliamentary election. This election is taking place at a time when the issue of violent crime is polarising public opinion. While over-exploitation of the issue is undesirable, is it really appropriate to restrict coverage of a problem everyone knows about? A wide-ranging debate is needed about media coverage of violent crime. Two prosecutions have been initiated against El Nacional over the morgue photo. One, brought by the Ombudsman’s Office before the court for the protection of children and adolescents, could result in the newspaper being fined the equivalent of 2 per cent of what it earned last year. The other, brought by the department of public prosecutions, could result in criminal penalties.