Freedom of the Press vs. Freedom from the Press

In the U.S., we have what’s known as freedom of the press. It means media outlets can be openly critical of the government without fear of reprisal.

It appears the President of Venezuela is an advocate of freedom from the press. Laws have been passed since 2004 that restrict free expression, including desecato (disrespect) laws, which deter criticism and public scrutiny of the government. These are vaguely defined laws that, if broken, can carry a six to 30 month prison sentence for insulting the president. What’s ironic is that Hugo Chavez himself put on a circus display at the U.N. in September insulting our own president.

Meanwhile, Chavez has recently been given the power to rule by decree in his country. With such a power-grab underway, it is more critical than ever that the media be allowed to scrutinize its government.

Unfortunately, on December 28th, Radio Caracas Television (RCTV) — the country’s oldest private, commercial broadcaster — was notified its license would not be renewed. RCTV has been a vocal critic of the Chavez government, and it appears this action is politically motivated.

This is censorship of a media outlet simply because it disagrees with its government. Many groups — the Institute of Press and Society, the Committee to Protect Journalists, the International Press Institute, Reporters without Borders, and the Inter American Press Association — have expressed concern over press freedom in Venezuela in the past and in light of the RCTV request denial.

That’s why I’ve introduced legislation (H.Con.Res. 77) that will call on the Chavez government to respect a free and independent media and to avoid censorship of media and free expression.

The United States is a case study in how a free press contributes to the health of a democracy. My hope is my colleagues join me in promoting a free press around the world.