Barinas State Governor (and brother of the late comandante eterno) Adán Chávez obtained a blanket gag order from a local tribunal covering three local newspapers: La Prensa de Barinas, Diario de Los Llanos and La Noticia de Barinas. That’s pretty much all of Barinas’s local press: none of it is allowed to publish any reports that indicates or suggests or even hints that Mr. Chávez may be involved with acts of corruption.
A court in Barinas State (Tribunal Segundo de Primera Instancia del Circuito Judicial Civil, Mercantil y Tránsito del Estado Barinas) sent a written notice to the three newspapers to inform them they may not publish any news that could link the Governor with alleged corruption charges that could be considered libel according to the Venezuelan Penal Code.
Is that pretty much the textbook definition of prior restraint? Why yes, yes it is.
Is prior restraint explicitly banned by the Venezuelan constitution? Why yes, yes it is.
Does anybody care? Well, you and I do.
The action comes after National Assembly member Freddy Superlano published a series of ads pointing the finger Adán Chávez for embezzlement in public works projects.
Earlier this month, Superlano presented evidence to the National Assembly’s Oversight Committee of irregularities in at least 16 infrastructure projects by the Barinas State Government. The same legislative committee is also investigating Chávez for the CAAEZ Sugar Plant case.
Adán Chávez promised that he would take those trying to slander him to court: this of course, is the right way to do it: if somebody lies and injures your reputation, you’re legally entitled to compensation. Chávez already took action against Superlano in front of a local court more than two months ago, but seems that didn’t go so well for him. And notice, it’s only slander if you can demonstrate is a lie — truth is an absolute defense against slander.
But slander is emphatically not what we’re talking about in this case. What we’re talking about here is prior restraint — gagging an opinion before publication — which is fundamentally different, and perhaps the most direct violation possible of fundamental freedom of speech rights. Adán’s argument — “we can not allow the debauchery of free speech” — is a thinly veiled excuse for prior restraint.
The Barinas branch of the National Journalists’ Association (CNP) responded to the snap judicial gag order with this statement by its Secretary-General, Wolman Linares:
It’s evident the use of the judicial branch to limit and neutralize the messenger, which is the media and the journalists, as they know that they don’t have the political force in the National Assembly to take the parliamentary immunity of the plaintiffs that have that prerogative…
The director of NGO Espacio Publico, Carlos Correa said during a radio interview that legal actions like this one want to force the press to drop any coverage of corruption cases.
Seems like in here we can’t talk or question or criticize the exercise of power. If there’s an absolute right is the civic right of question whoever is in power, this is absolutely normal, it’s not natural what they’re pretending to do. What they want is that anyone can’t talk about anybody.
The gag imposed on those three Barinas newspapers comes as two local radio stations were shut down by broadcasting authority CONATEL back in June, due to — wait for it — “orders from above”. In recent years, CONATEL has acted in similar fashion against other radio stations in Barinas State.
The use of the Venezuelan Judiciary to impose prior restraing against non-hegemony media outlets is becoming a trend: Two months ago, a local court in Carabobo gave a sweeping gag order to all media to not publish anything related to the former Food Minister Carlos Osorio. The same order targeted directly two opposition MPs: Ismael Garcia and Carlos Berrizbetia.
Berrizbetia immediately said that the National Assembly would ignore such order. But days ago, the same Carabobo court released a subpoena against Garcia regarding the Osorio case.
As the courts are actively intimidating journalists, we can’t ignore the similar actions made by armed thugs earlier this week against two other media outlets: The robbery of Cronica.Uno main offices in Caracas and the shooting of Diario de Los Andes in Trujillo State. The hegemony keeps on lashing out on those who refuse to toe the line…