Missing from the news cycle last week was the decision of a Caracas lower court deciding to hear a lawsuit brought by National Assembly Chairman Diosdado Cabello against the owners of Caracas tabloid Tal Cual (including the paper’s founder and editor, the legendary Teodoro Petkoff and former Science & Technology Minister Carlos Genatios) for defamation.
The judge banned Genatios and the four main board members of TalCual’s publishing company (including Petkoff) from traveling outside the country for the duration of the trial. The five must make weekly physical court appearances to demonstrate they haven’t fled.
Petkoff responded in an editorial, where he called the decision “…a cunning attack on free speech and against of the few independent media outlets left”.
Back in mid-January, Tal Cual published an opinion piece written by Genatios (no longer online) in which he criticized Cabello for allegedly saying back in October 2012 (after the comandante presidente’s electoral swansong) that “…those who don’t like insecurity should simply leave the country”. Cabello inmediately asked for proof that he really said that. Tal Cual pointed to an image supposdely taken from State channel VTV (seen in the photo above).
Sadly for both the paper and Genatios, the suppossed line wasn’t said on TV. It was actually written by the news & opinion website Noticiero Digital, which admitted that it was a mistake. ND later retracted it and apologized. In its editorial, Petkoff acknowledged the mistake too and exculpated Genatios for not correcting this before publication.
That didn’t stop Godgiven of launching legal actions against TalCual and Genatios. He also warned them via Twitter about “…getting future news from the courts”. Guess what? Last week, that same tweet became reality. This recent lawsuit now joins the list of previous ocassions when TalCual faced the Venezuelan justice system.
The charge of defamation is in the controversial Article 442 of the Venezuelan Penal Code, which was reformed in late 2004 by the AN and which makes offending a high-ranking public officer a punishable offense (of 6 to 30 months of prison), even if such offense is made in private.
This particular reform of the Penal Code, mainly focused on the so-called “crimes of contempt” against high authorities, was heavily critized by several human rights groups. Yet the TSJ’s Constitutional Chamber gave its tacit approval to such reform way earlier, thanks to a 2003 ruling.
Article 58 of the 1999 Constitution already established the right to reply and corrections for those cases of “innacurate or offensive information,” so the reforms were not really necessary. It’s common sense for any media outlet to run a correction if they publish or broadcast a mistake, but the fact is that the communicational hegemony will use any mistakes like this or El Nacional’s latest error to push a “media conspiracy” narrative and then push for more censorship. No matter how unintentional or inconsequential the mistake, they will use it to further claw away at an already embattled media freedom picture.
In the meantime, we wait with bated breath for the correction and apology from the SIBCI for this news that wasn’t true at all…