IACHR CONCERNED ABOUT FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION IN VENEZUELA
Washington, D.C, May 25, 2007. Over the last few years, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has expressed concern with respect to the progressive deterioration of the exercise of freedom of expression in Venezuela. Through its annual reports and press releases, the Commission has reported on direct or indirect measures taken by state agents or persons linked to the present government aimed at limiting or discouraging criticism of the administration. In its reports, the Commission has emphasized that such limitations on freedom of expression particularly affect human rights defenders, sectors of the political opposition, reporters, as well as Venezuelan society in general.
The Commission reiterates its pronouncements bearing in mind that, while there is broad discussion and criticism of government policies via the media in Venezuela, in some cases this legitimate activity has resulted in intimidating acts or indirect pressure against the exercise of freedom of expression in a democratic society. In this context, particular attention has been given to information concerning statements issued by high-ranking government authorities related to the review of the broadcast licenses of certain media outlets based on criteria that could violate freedom of expression.
At the present time, a substantial part of the debate on freedom of expression in Venezuela has centered on the decision of the executive branch declining to renew the broadcast license of Radio Caracas Television (RCTV). As is widely known, RCTV broadcasts to a large national audience and airs opinion-based programs with an independent editorial line. It is also widely known that high-ranking state officials have issued numerous public statements questioning the editorial line of RCTV.
The Commission recognizes the State’s prerogative to administer the wave bands, to previously establish the duration of concessions and to decide on their renewal at the end of those periods. That competence, however, must be exercised taking into account the State’s international obligations, which include guaranteeing the right to express ideas and thoughts of any nature through diverse media without imposing direct or indirect restrictions on the right of freedom of expression as described in Article 13 of the American Convention on Human Rights. For these reasons, the IACHR believes that in competitions for or in the awarding of licenses for the use of wave bands, in accordance with the principle of equality of opportunity, states must promote open, independent and transparent procedures with clear, objective and reasonable criteria that avoid any political discrimination on the basis of the editorial line of a media outlet.
The Commission calls on the Venezuelan State to protect, within the parameters of international human rights law, both expressions favorable to its political views and objectives as well as those which are critical. Such are the demands of pluralism, tolerance and the spirit of openness, without which a democratic society does not exist.
 Both the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and the European Court of Human Rights refered to such issues in the following sentences: I/A Court H.R., Case of Herrera Ulloa, para. 113; Case of Ivcher Bronstein, para. 152; Case of “The Last Temptation of Christ” (Olmedo Bustos et al.), para. 69; Scharsach and News Verlagsgesellschaft v. Austria, no. 39394/98, § 29, ECHR 2003-XI; Perna v. Italy [GC], no.48898/98, § 39, ECHR 2003-V; Dichand and others v. Austria, no. 29271/95, § 37, ECHR 26 February 2002; Eur. Court H.R., Case of Lehideux and Isorni v. France, Judgment of 23 September, 1998, para. 55; Eur. Court H.R., Case of Otto-Preminger-Institut v. Austria, Judgment of 20 September, 1994, Series A no. 295-A, para. 49; Eur. Court H.R. Case of Castells v. Spain, Judgment of 23 April, 1992, Serie A. No. 236, para. 42; Eur. Court H.R. Case of Oberschlick v. Austria, Judgment of 25 April, 1991, para. 57; Eur. Court H.R., Case of Müller and Others v. Switzerland, Judgment of 24 May, 1988, Series A no. 133, para. 33; Eur. Court H.R., Case of Lingens v. Austria, Judgment of 8 July, 1986, Series A no. 103, para. 41; Eur. Court H.R., Case of Barthold v. Germany, Judgment of 25 March, 1985, Series A no. 90, para. 58; Eur. Court H.R., Case of The Sunday Times v. United Kingdom, Judgment of 29 March, 1979, Series A no. 30, para. 65; y Eur. Court H.R., Case of Handyside v. United Kingdom, Judgment of 7 December, 1976, Series A No. 24, para. 49.