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Human Rights Watch Get it Wrong on Venezuela…Again

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  • Cort Greene
    [image: Hands Off Venezuela]*Hands Off Venezuela* @*HOVcampaign* Venezuela: over 3,000 tons of hoarded food seized in
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 15, 2013
      [image: Hands Off Venezuela]*Hands Off Venezuela*

      Venezuela: over 3,000 tons of hoarded food seized in Januaryhttp://www.
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      Human Rights Watch Get it Wrong on Venezuela�Again

      Jan 15th 2013, by Ewan Robertson - Venezuelanalysis.com
      [image: Jos� Miguel Vivanco, Americas director of Human Rights Watch (EFE)]

      Jos� Miguel Vivanco, Americas director of Human Rights Watch (EFE)

      In their latest intervention into the debate over freedom of expression in
      Venezuela, Human Rights Watch has once again got it wrong. In an article
      entitled �Venezuela: Halt Censorship, Intimidation of
      which was predictably picked up by mainstream outlets globally, the New
      York-based body makes the charge that the Venezuelan government is engaging
      in �censorship and intimidation of media that challenge the official line
      regarding President Hugo Ch�vez�s health and inauguration�. This is further
      described as part of a strategy to use Venezuela�s Media
      Responsibility Law<http://venezuelanalysis.com/analysis/5914> to
      �limit public discussion on issues of national importance�.


      To back up their claim, HRW can only find two cases to cite. The first is
      the opening up of an administrative investigation into pro-opposition TV
      station Globovision by national telecommunications regulator Conatel on 9
      January. The investigation relates to a set of Globovision-made short
      the legality of the delay in President Hugo Chavez�s inauguration, through
      quoting certain excerpts from the Venezuelan constitution and comments by
      government figures. Conatel argues that the spots, whose continued
      broadcasting it prohibited, may have broken article 27 of Venezuela�s Media
      Responsibility Law, which prevents media outlets from producing information
      that �generates public anxiety or disturbs public order, acts against the
      stability of the democratic system, denies the authority of the
      legitimately constituted authorities, or generates hate or intolerance for
      political or religious reasons�.

      HRW dismiss Conatel�s claim out of hand, with HRW Americas director Jos�
      Miguel Vivanco quoted as saying, �There is nothing in the content of
      Globovisi�n�s broadcasts that could remotely be described as incitement or
      a threat to public order�. As such, Conatel�s investigation is made to
      appear as petty and aimed at censoring what is supposedly only a case of a
      media outlet questioning the government line.

      However, both the content of the spots and the political context in which
      they were produced make HRW�s description of the situation highly
      contestable. For example, one of the spots begins by showing President
      Chavez commenting before he went to Cuba for surgery in December that if he
      is unable to continue as president, new elections should be called. Then,
      the spot goes on to quote and underline the first half of article 231 of
      the constitution, which states that a president elect should be sworn-in
      for their new term on the 10 January after their election.

      The spot then moves on to quote one paragraph of article 233 of the
      constitution which says �when a permanent absence (of the president) is
      produced before assuming office (i.e. before the inauguration ceremony), a
      new election must be held within thirty days�. The spot ends by quoting
      another part of article 233, which states that in such a case, the
      president of the National Assembly must assume the presidency while a new
      election is held.

      Through focusing on the 10 January swearing-in date, then quoting the
      constitutional article on permanent presidential absences, a deliberate
      manipulation takes place. By introducing the idea that the current
      constitutional situation is one of Chavez�s �permanent absence�, the spot
      invites one to think that the correct legal step is for new elections to be
      called after 10 January. Yet Chavez�s status is not �permanent absence� and
      so it is actively misleading to equate that part of the constitution with
      the current situation, as Globovision does.

      Globovision deploys the language of the president�s �permanent absence� and
      heavily promotes the notion of a �new election within thirty days� in a
      delicate political context. The opposition are arguing that the delay in
      Chavez�s swearing-in until after 10 January is a �violation� of the
      constitution and is a �coup d��tat�, with sectors of the opposition
      declaring that they no longer recognise the legitimacy of the government. I
      have heard a few opposition supporters tell me that based on their
      understanding of the situation, �After 10 January, Chavez is no longer
      president,� and that new elections need to be called.

      In such an atmosphere, there is definitely a case to be made that a media
      outlet repeatedly broadcasting an actively misleading set of quotes from
      the constitution which seem to cast the legitimacy of the government into
      question does indeed break several clauses within article 27 of Venezuela�s
      media responsibility law. The reality of the situation suggests that HRW�s
      stance has more to do with taking Globovision�s side in an argument with
      the government, rather than about a crusade for freedom of speech in
      Venezuela. Certainly, the opening of the administrative investigation into
      the spots hasn�t stopped Globovision from providing a platform for the same
      arguments through its numerous programs and commentators.

      HRW also repeats the ridiculous claim that Globovision is the �only
      remaining television station with national coverage consistently critical
      of Ch�vez�s policies,� which is
      demonstrably<http://venezuelanalysis.com/analysis/5860> false.
      The body also forgets to mention that the majority of both press and radio
      in Venezuela are privately owned, and generally critical of the government.
      Perhaps what HRW means is that Globovision is the only television station
      in Venezuela that purposefully manipulates information in a way that would
      not be tolerated in any Western country?

      *Federico Medina Ravell*

      The only other evidence that HRW can find to back its charges of
      �censorship� by the Venezuelan government is the case of tweeter Federico
      Medina Ravell. Medina�s house was searched on 6 January by officers of
      Venezuelan�s national intelligence service (Sebin) as part of
      �investigations into the instigation of terrorism via social networks,
      especially Twitter,� according to an official statement by Venezuela�s
      Attorney General.

      Medina is assumed to be behind the Twitter name �Lucio Quincio C�, an
      account <https://twitter.com/LucioQuincioC> which propagates rumours about
      Chavez�s health and questions the legitimacy of the government. Several
      tweets appear to claim without basis that Chavez has already died, such as
      one message directed at a pro-Chavez supporter on 6 January which said,
      �Your owner is cold, he doesn�t have fever and is stable, he�s not moving�.

      Federico Medina Ravell is described by Human Rights Watch as a
      �businessman�. Medina is in fact the cousin of Alberto Federico Ravell, one
      of the founders of Globovision, who now edits a Venezuelan news website
      called *La Patilla*. According to
      claims<http://www.dossier-360.com/Site/News.aspx?id=3145> by
      pro-government journalist and TV host Mario Silva, Medina Ravell also
      counts prominent opposition political and media figures among his friends
      such as Henrique Capriles Radonski, Maria Corina Machado, and Antonio

      HRW watch says that �Medina, who was not present at the time, said in an
      interview published online that the intelligence agents detained his wife
      and children for several hours and took two computers from his home�. This
      is true, but it doesn�t quite appear to be the heavy-handed security
      operation the HRW report suggests. According to Venezuelan news website
      the family had two lawyers present during the search, and neighbours were
      present as witnesses during questioning about Medina�s activities. Indeed,
      photos of Sebin officials conducting the search are available on a variety
      of news websites such as the one linked above.

      The house search also doesn�t appear to have limited the freedom of
      expression of the twitter account �Lucio Quincio C�. For example, a 12
      January tweet appeared to continue speculation of Chavez�s current state by
      saying �stop crying for your owner, I have offers on crowns and urns�.

      Whether it was necessary for police to investigate Medina over the
      information propagated through the twitter account is definitely
      questionable. However, the action hardly amounts to the HRW charge of
      �limiting public discussion on issues of national importance�. Apart from
      brief coverage of the search itself, Venezuelan media haven�t said much on
      the matter. Considering that private media in Venezuela will use almost
      anything to criticise the government and try to find even the most flimsy
      basis for the cry of �restrictions on freedom of expression�, the fact that
      they haven�t reported much about this case suggests that even they consider
      it a non-starter.

      Rather, it appears that HRW are grasping at straws in their attempt to
      create an inaccurate image of the current state of media, freedom of
      expression and public debate in Venezuela. Indeed, this would not be the
      first time that HRW has been accused of grossly misrepresenting human
      rights in Venezuela <http://venezuelanalysis.com/analysis/4051> or
      committing howlers <http://venezuelanalysis.com/analysis/7149> in their
      description of media and press freedoms in the country.

      The reality inside Venezuela is that both government and opposition, and
      media outlets and citizens of all political stripes are freely arguing
      their point of view over Chavez�s health and the current constitutional
      situation. This includes some opposition leaders openly calling the current
      state of affairs a �coup� and announcing they no longer recognise the
      government. In such a context, a limited investigation into a media outlet
      enjoying a public concession which broadcasts actively misleading
      information about the constitution does not constitute �the limiting of
      public discussion� or �censorship�, as much as HRW would like to cast
      things otherwise.
      *Source URL (retrieved on 15/01/2013 - 9:43am):*

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