Freedom of Expression

Press Release 45/01


The Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression notes with concern that administrative proceedings have been initiated by the Venezuela National Telecommunications Commission (CONATEL) against the Globovisión television chain. Those proceedings are based on legislation that is contrary to the exercise of the freedom of expression.

The proceedings against Globovision were initiated on Oct. 18, according to information released by the channel, and could result in the imposition of penalties under the Telecommunications Law. According to information received, on Sept. 29, Globovision aired a statement from a taxi driver referring to the assassination of nine colleagues, when in fact only one had been killed. Subsequently, the channel corrected this information. The government agency CONATEL justified initiation of legal proceedings on the basis of Articles 53 and 59 of the Broadcasting Regulations, which prohibit transmitting "false, misleading or tendentious news", and require truthfulness in information. The penalties, according to Article 199 of those regulations, could result in a fine or in temporary or permanent suspension of the channel's broadcasting license.

The Special Rapporteur expresses her concern over the existence and application of legislation that is contrary to international standards on freedom of expression. Art. 53 of the Venezuelan Broadcasting Regulations establishes: "It is absolutely prohibited to transmit over broadcasting stations:…j) false, misleading or tendentious signals and news…k) notices that arouse speculation or that contain misleading statements or spurious warnings". Art. 59 of those regulations provides: "News or information transmitted must be taken from trustworthy sources that will constitute a guarantee of its seriousness and accuracy. In general, news broadcasts must be succinct and limited to stating the facts, avoiding any commentary or personal interpretation."

In the administrative proceedings that CONATEL has initiated, reference is also made to Art. 58 of the Venezuelan Constitution, which states: "Communication is free and pluralistic, and carries with it the duties and responsibilities indicated by law. Every person has the right to timely, truthful and impartial information, without censorship, in accordance with the principles of this Constitution…". The Special Rapporteur has on several occasions declared this article to be incompatible with the freedom of expression guaranteed in Art. 13 of the American Convention on Human Rights. The right to information embraces all information, including that which, as opposed to truthful, may be "erroneous", "untimely", or "incomplete". The doctrine of "truthful" information represents a backward step for freedom of expression in the hemisphere, since the free flow of information would be limited to previous conditioning, which is contrary to the broad conception accorded this right within the Inter-American system.

Prosecution based on legislation that adopts the doctrine of truthful information represents a serious threat to the full exercise of the freedom of expression. On this point, the Inter-American Court has declared that:

It would not be legitimate to invoke the right of society to be truthfully informed in order to justify a prior censorship regime supposedly intended to eliminate information that might be false in the view of the censor.

This Office has indicated on several occasions that the use by a state of legislation contrary to the freedom of expression constitutes a serious restriction on the development of democracy, since it impedes free debate over ideas and opinions. Principal 7 of the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression of the I-ACHR refers to this issue, stating that:

Prior conditioning of expressions, such as truthfulness, timeliness or impartiality is incompatible with the right to freedom of expression recognized in international instruments.

The Special Rapporteur For Freedom of Expression recalls that Art. 13 of the American Convention on Human Rights, to which Venezuela is a party, establishes that the right to freedom of expression "includes the freedom to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas of all kinds…".

Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression
Oct. 29, 2001
Washington D.C.