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Open Letter To Committee to Protect Journalists

by Narco News Tuesday, Jul. 30, 2002 at 4:39 PM
salonchingon@hotmail.com

I write to inform you of specific acts and immediate threats against journalists in Venezuela, and to ask you 12 questions, as a journalist, about your organization's previous statements regarding press freedom issues in that country. I hope that your organization will take immediate action to defend these journalists at risk, and that you will offer full and honest answers to the 12 questions.

An Open Letter to Ann Cooper of

the Committee to Protect Journalists

July 29, 2002

Ms. Ann Cooper, info@cpj.org

Director

Committee to Protect Journalists

330 7th Avenue, 12th Floor

New York, NY 10001, USA

Phone: (212) 465-1004

FAX: (212) 465-9568

CC: CPJ "Americas Coordinators" Marylene Smeets and Sauro González

Rodríguez, americas@cpj.org, media@cpj.org

CC: Immedia Working Group, salonchingon@hotmail.com, Narco News

Subscribers,

narconews@yahoogroups.com, members of the press



Dear Ms. Cooper,

My name is Al Giordano. I have been a professional journalist since 1988

and

today I write you in my capacity as publisher of The Narco News Bulletin -

www.narconews.com -- an online newspaper that reports on the drug war and

democracy from Latin America.

It was our publication that, in December 2001, won the landmark New York

Supreme Court ruling that extended First Amendment rights under Sullivan v.

NY Times to Internet journalists. A copy of that decision can be read

online

at the website of the Electronic Frontier Foundation:

http://www.eff.org/Cases/BNM_v_Narco_News/20011205_decision.html

Today, Narco News, together with colleagues in authentic journalism and

independent media around the world, has launched an international dialogue

about the role of "press freedom" organizations. We are focusing on the

three such organizations with the largest budgets: the New York-based CPJ,

the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders and the Miami-based

Inter-American

Press Association.

The catalyst for this international dialogue, which we have begun on our

own

website as well as through the www.indymedia.org networks and others, was

our recent fact-finding mission to Venezuela, where we encountered a very

different set of circumstances and facts than those described by the

Committee to Protect Journalists' statements regarding events in Venezuela.

In fact, we found that an entire class of journalists in Venezuela is under

attack and has been left undefended by your organization and the other

large-budget "press freedom" organizations: the journalists of the

Community

Media, particularly those from the 25 non-profit TV and radio stations that

were legalized under Venezuela's Bolivarian Constitution of 1999 and the

Telecommunications Law of 2001.

Specifically, we bring your attention to the grave matter of the unjust

imprisonment by rogue police forces (the same ones that participated in the

April 2002 coup attempt in that country) of three important and respected

radio journalists: Nicolás Rivera of Radio Perola, and Jorge Quintero and

Lenín Méndez of Radio Senderos, who report for non-profit Community

Broadcasters in the greater Caracas area.

We also bring your attention to serious threats against these journalists

and others like them that have come not from governmental institutions,

but,

rather, from commercial media institutions.

Specifically, this threat has been executed by Miguel Angel Martínez, the

president of the private-sector Chamber of Radio Broadcasters who recently

called upon his organization's affiliates to "interfere" with the

frequencies of the Community Media outlets during the next coup d'etat

attempt in Venezuela (Mr. Martínez was a co-signer, last April 12th, with

the military-installed dictator Pedro Carmona, of the decree that abolished

the national Congress, the Supreme Court and the Constitution in

Venezuela.)

Today, we published Part I of a series reported from Venezuela that

contains

more details on the current situation and the threats against journalists:

http://www.narconews.com/communitymedia1.html

This series is also published in Spanish, at:

http://www.narconews.com/medioscomunitarios1.html

It is clear to me, based on my first-hand reporting, that the entire matter

of press freedom in Venezuela turns conventional and outmoded thinking

about

"freedom of the press" on its head (much as our legal defense against

Banamex-Citigroup caused the New York Supreme Court to rethink and expand

upon existing First Amendment protections, applying them to Internet

journalists).

This international dialogue - and I hope you and others from CPJ will

participate in a spirit of full disclosure, self-criticism, self-correction

and open-mindedness - has many aspects, precisely because it is long

overdue.

For the purposes of this letter, I begin with four key matters:

A. First, there is the question, often asked in documents and statements by

the Committee to Protect Journalists: "Who is a journalist?" We find that

these Community Journalists in Venezuela certainly qualify as journalists

based on your organization's own prior declarations, but that your

organization's stated principles have not, so far, been complied with in

your actions. Thus, journalists at risk are left undefended by the very

international organizations that exist, in your own words, to protect them.

B. Second, there is the delicate matter of how CPJ will address the

worrisome trend in which commercial media corporations are increasingly

posing threats to the press freedom of independent media, community media,

non-profit media and Internet journalists. The situation in Venezuela

provides a very urgent challenge for CPJ and other organizations like it.

Because, unfortunately, the actions of your organization and others have

clearly prioritized the defense of "paid speech" (commercial journalism)

over "free speech" (community and independent journalism). As a result, I

repeat: Journalists are at grave risk today.

C. Third, there is the question of how the funding of your organization

causes, at very least, the appearance of a conflict-of-interest regarding

selective defense of commercial media journalists over non-profit media

journalists, because such a large percentage of your funding does come from

commercial media corporations or their foundations. I will address this

matter very specifically in a moment.

D. Fourth, and perhaps the most difficult matter, is the question of the

use

of speech by sectors of Civil Society who are not, per se, journalists to

criticize and counter abuses by the commercial media. Your organization has

increasingly denounced the use of speech both by citizens and their elected

leaders in Venezuela and portrayed such speech as a "threat" against press

freedom. As a journalist who has survived various and well-known attacks

against my own freedom to publish, and who has nonetheless published more

than 1,000 articles in the commercial press and more than 500 articles in

the independent media, I beg you and your organization to reconsider the

slippery slope you have entered by defining - in the case of Venezuela -

speech itself as a "threat" to speech. I, and other journalists like me,

feel very strongly that the opposite is true: that the only solution to

"bad" speech is more speech, and that your organization has made a grave

error and causes harm to your own stated mission through your increasing

attempts to inhibit free speech by a society that is increasingly harmed by

the abuses of the commercial media.

I will now elaborate on each of these four general areas of discussion, to

which I will add specific questions for you and your organization, the

Committee to Protect Journalists. As addendum, I will repeat our questions

to you, in numerical order, in the hope of obtaining clear and forthright

answers.

Obviously, some of the issues raised here may be difficult, and you may

well

disagree with the opinions expressed in Part I and future segments of our

series on the media in Venezuela, particularly as they pertain to your

organization. For that reason, I offer you the opportunity to respond on

the

pages of Narco News, and will publish your responses in full without

censorship on our pages.

I. Four Areas of Inquiry

A. Who is a Journalist?

In his introduction to "Attacks on the Press in 1997," William A. Orme, Jr.

of the Committee to Protect Journalists states, in my opinion wisely:

"We are also sometimes accused of defending people - the imprisoned, even

the dead - who are in the view of some not really journalists. This is a

critique we respectfully reject."

Mr. Orme continues:

"In every reported case of a press freedom abuse, CPJ must first determine

the people involved were journalists and the attack or prosecution was

related in some direct way to their profession. This is necessarily a

somewhat subjective process. Who is a journalist? For the purposes of our

work, we define the profession as broadly as possible. Journalists who are

sentenced to prison or targeted for assassination include renowned

newspaper

editors and struggling provincial stringers, political polemicists and

by-the-book news service reporters, star television correspondents and

shoestring community radio activists. In totalitarian societies, where by

definition there is no independent journalism, dissident pamphleteers or

pirate radio operators will be defended by CPJ if punished for what they

have written or broadcast. Journalists jailed for campaigning for freedom

of

expression also get our support: If journalists don't stand up for other

journalists who are fighting for press freedom, who will?

"We will also defend as journalists those who would not define themselves

primarily as journalists: That is because governments sometimes define

people into our profession for us by prosecuting them for what they have

published in newspapers or said on the radio…."

(Source: http://www.cpj.org/attacks97/introduction.html )

This was a wonderful statement by Mr. Orme. My first question for you is:

1. Does the 1997 statement by William Orme on behalf of the Committee to

Protect Journalists, broadly defining "who is a journalist," continue to

represent the position of CPJ?

This 1997 CPJ statement applies very clearly to "shoestring community radio

activists." In your organization's own words, the Community Media

journalists of Venezuela clearly are defined as journalists worthy of the

protection your organization says it offers.

And yet, in all of CPJ's statements regarding press freedom issues in

Venezuela, you have maintained a complete silence regarding the serious

threats - including unjust imprisonment, raids, seizures, censorship,

theats

of electronic interference by commercial broadcasters and violence and

torture - against the Community Media outlets of Venezuela. It seems to me

that in your organization's misguided obsession over the Chávez government,

you selectively defend only those journalists - and commercial journalists

at that - who are opposed to that government. Again, this situation is

admittedly different than that in many countries because what is called

"pirate" media in the United States, for example, has been legalized in

Venezuela. And it is also different than the situation in many countries

because the elected government of Venezuela has pioneered, more than any

other nation-state, the legalization and defense of Community Broadcasters.

The threats have, instead, come either from the private sector or from

pro-coup elements of rogue or opposition police agencies.

My next questions are:

2. Will CPJ, now having been reminded of its own stated definition and

mission, investigate and denounce the illegal detentions of radio

journalists Nicolás Rivera of Radio Perola, and Jorge Quintero and Lenín

Méndez of Radio Senderos?

3. Will CPJ address the root cause of these attacks: the existence of rogue

police forces and coup-plotters that enjoy a particular kind of impunity

precisely because they are supported by the commercial media corporations

of

Venezuela?

4. Will CPJ finally denounce the illegal raids and threats on April 11th,

12th and 13th 2002 by the Carmona dictatorship against Radio Perola, Radio

Catia Libre, TV Catia and Radio Fé y Alegría (broadcaster of the Catholic

Church)?

5. Will CPJ finally denounce the April coup attempt - and any future coup

attempts in Venezuela or against any democratically elected government on

earth - as a prima facie threat to press freedom?

6. Will CPJ consider a public apology to the Community Media journalists of

Venezuela, and to the public at large, for having been "asleep at the

wheel"

in not having denounced the coup d'etat as it was happening last April, and

make the internal organizational corrections to ensure that this kind of

negligence by a press-freedom organization will never happen again during a

time of crisis?

7. Of particular interest to those of us who are Internet journalists (and

of obvious personal interest to Narco News and me): Does the Committee to

Protect Journalists embrace the case law established by the New York

Supreme

Court in December 2001 in the case of Banco v. Menéndez et al, which

established, A. a higher standard upon Plaintiffs in libel lawsuits for

establishing jurisdiction on foreign journalists in U.S. courts, and; B.

the

landmark ruling that extended First Amendment protections (under Sullivan

v.

NY Times) to Internet journalists if we engage in responsible and basic

journalistic practices?

In particular, because this case was international by nature - a lawsuit

against journalists in Mexico for reports published in Mexico about events

and a Plaintiff from Mexico, but filed in U.S. courts - this case clearly

fits under the international mission of CPJ. Because CPJ has already

acknowledged that, in certain cases, Internet journalists are journalists

worthy of protection, it seems that the endorsement and defense of this

court victory (which was not appealed and is now final) would naturally be

embraced by CPJ. Still, an affirmative statement to that end would be

helpful to the protection of all Internet journalists throughout the world.

B. "Paid Speech" vs. "Free Speech"

These are difficult times for the profession of journalism and for

journalists, because, increasingly, the threats to our safety and free

speech are coming from within the industry itself: from the corporate

owners

of TV, radio, print and commercial Internet news organizations.

Again, the attempted coup in Venezuela last April was a watershed moment

that revealed this problem, now of epidemic proportions, to the global

public.

The landscape of journalism itself has changed radically in recent years,

with the wave of mergers and acquisitions and the increased concentration

of

media ownership in the hands of fewer and fewer companies. Many, if not

most, of these companies are no longer exclusively dedicated to news

gathering and reporting. The conflicts-of-interest by news organizations

with the extracurricular financial interests of their own owners thus pile

up like traffic at rush hour. Commercial journalism has lost its ethical

and

societal compass and strayed very far from the role envisioned and

protected

by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution and similar laws

in

other lands. When it comes to threats to press freedom, the media has met

the enemy and, to quote Pogo, "it is us."

This radical change in the news gathering environment - a change from above

and from within the media industry - forces, in my opinion, any

organization

dedicated to the protection of journalists and press-freedom to reassess

and

correct its activities bringing them up to date with the times and the

actual situation. Obviously, this is a cause for soul-searching by all of

us

who are journalists or who wish to be authentic journalists, and for the

organizations that defend our rights. And yet the change in reality is so

sudden and extreme that we must rethink almost all of our past assumptions.

I have outlined a very large process that will take time and deliberation,

I

am sure, if it is addressed at all. But specifically regarding the crisis

of

journalism within the commercial media of Venezuela - and because Community

Journalists are at risk right now - this matter can and should be addressed

immediately by CPJ.

Obviously, CPJ must respond to a large volume of cases and at times this

work is akin to being in a MASH unit: you must practice a kind of triage

and

prioritize which cases are most important to publicize and advocate.

However, it is also obvious that the attempted coup d'etat in Venezuela,

which threatened to turn back the clocks of democracy and press-freedom

thirty years in the entire hemisphere, is a matter that should take

priority

over all other threats against press freedom. If that coup d'etat had

succeeded, your job would have become a hundred times more difficult not

only in Venezuela, but in your role of protecting journalists throughout

Latin America (just as the 1973 coup in Chile caused a chain reaction of

repression and attacks against the press throughout South America with

Operation Condor spreading the terror to Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay,

Bolivia, Perú, Uruguay, Ecuador, Colombia and Venezuela throughout the

1970s, 80s and 90s).

Specifically, regarding the ongoing present-day situation in Venezuela,

there is no reason or justification to wait: Action is needed now,

immediately, to address and correct root causes of threats to press freedom

and against journalists. And to do this task effectively, CPJ and other

organizations like it must correct errors already made.

My next set of questions is:

8. Will CPJ investigate and denounce the censorship by all of the

commercial

television stations in Venezuela on April 12th and 13th 2002 against their

own journalists, that - nobody today disputes that there was a news

blackout

- prevented their own journalists from reporting the facts about the

counter-coup by Civil Society against the military-installed dictatorship

of

those days?

9. Will CPJ investigate and denounce the threats by Miguel Angel Martínez

of

the Chamber of Radio Broadcasters to "interfere" with the frequencies of

Community radio and TV broadcasters utilizing the technology and equipment

of the commercial broadcasters affiliated with his organization?

10. Will CPJ investigate and denounce the forced closure of Channel 8 - the

public television network in Venezuela - by the Carmona dictatorship in

April 2002 and the complete silence by the commercial media about this

threat upon a public media outlet?

11. What is CPJ's position on the participation by commercial news

gathering

organizations such as the daily El Nacional and the daily La Hora in

Venezuela in censoring their own pages last April 9th in order to join a

politically-partisan "national strike" that - it is clear to everyone, in

retrospect - had the goal of provoking the April 11th coup d'etat?

I will address some of the issues regarding Question # 11 in a moment, when

we discuss, below, whether public speech is, in reality, a threat to public

speech, as CPJ has repeatedly claimed regarding Venezuela.

But first, I ask you to forthrightly address questions about CPJ's

financing

and whether it causes either conflicts-of-interest or appearance of

conflicts.

C. Following the Money at CPJ

Up front, I wish to praise the Committee to Protect Journalist for

disclosing, in a detailed manner, the sources of your organization's

funding. We do the same at Narco News, on our website as you do, so that

the

public may be informed. I congratulate you for that particularly because

you

do it in a more comprehensive manner than the other two large international

press freedom organizations that we have invited into this international

dialogue; Reporters Without Borders and the Inter-American Press

Association.

The late Judith Moses, a CPJ board member and tireless advocate of press

freedom, told me in the year 2000 that there are times when funding comes

with strings attached to the Committee for Protection of Journalists. For

example, explained Judith, the Ford Foundation - one of your major

financiers that also finances the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the

Press in the United States - insists on certain divisions of labor between

the two organizations regarding domestic vs. foreign threats on press

freedom. There is certainly nothing wrong with donors specifying the nature

of their contributions as long as such instructions are fully disclosed to

the public. But I think you should fully disclose that arrangement and any

others like it.

My next questions are:

12. Given that so much of CPJ's funding comes from commercial news

organizations, profit-making corporations or their non-profit foundations,

how does CPJ guard against allowing the reality of funding sources to

determine a more vigorous defense of "paid speech" by commercial

journalists

over the press freedoms that truly involve "free speech" by non-profit,

community, independent, shoestring or low-budget Internet publications?

13. What safeguards, if any, has CPJ put in place to assure that media

companies that donate to CPJ do not get favorable treatment over

journalists

who either don't contribute to your organization or who, because they are

not wealthy, have not been able to contribute to your work?

14. Specifically regarding the situation in Venezuela: One of your

contributors is the Cisneros Group of Venezuela, owners of Venevision TV,

one of the companies that censored its own journalists in April 2002 from

reporting on the counter-coup underway in that country. Have the Cisneros

Group's contributions prevented CPJ or made you reluctant to criticize the

threats against press freedom caused by the Cisneros Group's own actions

during the crisis of last April?

In a few cases, and to your credit, at least in other countries, CPJ has

defended Community Radio journalists, and even sometimes those working in

Pirate Radio (on eight occasions over the past seven years). But the vast

majority of attacks against non-commercial journalists have not been

addressed by CPJ: regarding the systematic attacks by pro-coup forces in

Venezuela, CPJ has remained completely silent on these kinds of attacks.

15. Does your more aggressive and active defense of commercial journalists

than of non-profit journalists reflect the realities of fundraising in this

era?

It comes down to this for CPJ: Do you represent journalists or the industry

that funds you? Because the protection of journalists means, also,

protection from the media industry and, often, its business agendas that

corrupt its sense of fairness and practice of journalism.

For example, since 1999, beginning with the World Trade Organization

protests in Seattle and continuing regularly during similar

anti-globalization protests throughout the world - in Davos, Genoa, Cancún

and other cities - there has been a systematic series of violent attacks

and

jailings of journalists, photojournalists and video-journalists who have

covered those demonstrations. These attacks have been extensively

documented, photographed and filmed and published on the more than 90

Internet sites of www.indymedia.org throughout the world. But the Committee

to Protect Journalists, despite the systematic and repeat nature of these

attacks on journalists, has been, to my knowledge, silent in the defense of

these journalists.

There is a polemic among some commercial journalists who say that these

independent journalists are not real journalists. However, I remind you of

your organization's 1997 statements by William Orme, quoted above, that

declare, unequivocally, that this kind of journalism also deserves your

active protection.

I urge you to address this issue with total seriousness: These attacks

against Indymedia journalists are systematic and have enjoyed a savage

impunity, in part, because authorities know that the major international

press freedom organizations like CPJ have not spoken loudly or clearly

against them. These attacks will likely continue during every

anti-globalization protest to come until the press-freedom organizations

end

your silence on them.

One of the root causes of these attacks has to do with a conflict within

journalism. Typically, during the global meetings of the World Trade

Organization and similar groups, a caste system of credentialing

journalists

has resulted: Journalists for commercial news organizations are accredited

and may practice their work with the usual assumptions of safety and

protection. But independent media journalists are not accredited by these

organizations and governments, and thus are left in the streets with the

demonstrators, often beaten or jailed precisely because they are present

with cameras or tape-recorders or pen-and-paper. They are specifically

singled out for violent beatings and imprisonment because they are

journalists.

The commercial news organizations, by and large, are in favor of this

State-enforced "caste system" among journalists for obvious and interested

motives: The credentialing only of commercial journalists at such global

news events gives commercial news organizations a competitive advantage,

indeed, a monopoly, on coverage of the deliberations inside these

gatherings

where governments and industry meet, often deciding questions of great

public importance.

Thus, the very act of refusing to credential non-profit, community,

independent or Internet journalists causes danger and harm to many of us,

as

has been documented time and time again during each of these events.

My questions regarding this matter are:

16. Has CPJ's financing from commercial media organizations caused your

staff to ignore these systematic and violent attacks on independent

journalists during these world trade meetings across the globe?

17. Should CPJ address and denounce the exclusion of non-profit,

independent, community and Internet journalists from press credentials by

governments and trade organizations as threats upon press freedom?

I remind that the single-greatest determinative factor in whether a

journalist covering one of these world trade gatherings is beaten, jailed

or

harmed is whether the journalist has been denied credentials to cover the

event on the inside. The question of credentialing of journalists, thus, is

a serious matter of the safety of journalists: Those left outside in the

streets to cover the event are placed at risk and in harm's way.

A related question:

18. Will CPJ, now that this matter has been brought to your attention,

assign its staff to monitor and investigate these predictable attacks

during

future world trade meetings and anti-globalization protests?

This can be easily begun with the simple commitment to monitor reports on

www.indymedia.org and similar websites as these events are happening. The

archives of these sites, in fact, contain the documentary evidence,

including photographs, videotapes, audiotapes, and eyewitness testimony, of

the systematic attacks that have already occurred.

I include this matter in this section on CPJ's financing because, at very

least, the perception of a conflict-of-interest exists: your commercial

media and corporate donors favor the exclusion of independent journalists

from being credentialed to cover these important events. They are generally

silent about these attacks, or, on many occasions, have offered biased

reporting that seems to justify these attacks on their colleagues in

journalism.

I would suggest that this reality makes it even more important that a

press-freedom organization like CPJ undertake the task that the commercial

media refuses to do: The documentation, accurate reporting and public

advocacy against these attacks and the selective credentialing process that

is at their root. On the most basic level, these are attacks against

journalism itself, not just journalists, and even if the commercial news

organizations do not have the wisdom or day-to-day moral compass to defend

their independent colleagues, an organization named the Committee to

Protect

Journalists ought to fill the vacuum and undertake a vigorous defense of

these journalists at risk. I urge and beg you to do just that.

D. Venezuela and Speech

Critical of the Media

In February 2001, CPJ published a major report titled "Radio Chávez," which

appears online at:

http://www.cpj.org/Briefings/2001/Ven_feb01/Ven_feb01.html

The report states:

"Chávez relies on direct access to his supporters, allowing him to

marginalize all other institutions, including the press. He has maintained

a

consistently antagonistic attitude toward the media. His diatribes have to

some extent undermined the credibility of the press, making local

journalists vulnerable to legal and even physical attacks."

There are so many errant, and hypocritical statements for a "free speech"

organization to have made in this report that it is difficult for me to

know

where to begin. I stress that I make these comments as a journalist and

this

matter is at the root of why, today, Narco News and our networks of

authentic journalists and independent media have launched an international

dialogue about the role of "press freedom" organizations.

I must honestly tell you, and it pains me to say it, but I feel that the

Committee to Protect Journalists has betrayed its self-proclaimed mission

with this kind of discourse against free speech.

What you at CPJ are denouncing here is speech itself: and I, for one, don't

believe I am at all alone in wondering how a press-freedom organization

could engage in such an Orwellian discourse, so harmful to the bedrock

principles of free speech and press freedom.

The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution makes no distinctions: Free

speech rights belong to all. It does not "license" some citizens to enjoy

these rights above others.

Likewise, Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states:

"Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall

include freedom to seek receive and impart information and ideas of all

kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in

the form of art, or through any other media of his choice."

It does not say "some people" shall have the right to freedom of

expression.

It does not say "everyone except for elected leaders." It says, plain and

simple, that "everyone" enjoys these rights.

And yet the implication in your organization's snidely-penned and shallow

discourse about the use of speech by Chávez is that the elected president

of

a nation should not utilize his rights to speak if those rights include

criticizing a commercial media that - as the events of April 2002 proved

beyond a reasonable doubt - has worked not as a participant in democracy

but

has, overwhelmingly and to the point of supporting a coup d'etat, become,

as

an industry, the single-largest threat to free speech by the people - the

"everyone" that is cited in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights - of

our era.

And by its active role in the deterioration of the free speech rights of

all

the people, the commercial media has merely manufactured a boomerang upon

its own rights: I should not have lecture experts in "press freedom" about

this dynamic - your organization has, in words, said the same thing many

times, but in deeds has not complied with your self-stated mission.

The commercial media, not just in Venezuela, but especially in Venezuela,

has denied voice to the majority of citizens, particularly the poor

majority, and thus frozen them out of the public discourse. Instead, it has

reserved access to the airwaves only for the wealthiest sectors - in Latin

America, these sectors are accurately known as the oligarchy - but

nonetheless the public found a superior medium through which to speak: fair

and free elections.

I need not remind your organization that prior to the 1998 landslide

election of Chávez as president of Venezuela, and the five subsequent

elections in which, in each vote, the public backed his programs and allies

overwhelmingly, that Venezuela, under its old regimes, was a more dangerous

country for journalists than it is today by every measure.

According to the 1991-1992 annual report of PROVEA, Venezuela's leading

human rights group, in that year there were 125 distinct attacks upon

individual journalists in that country: physical beatings, interference,

threats, legal persecution, raids, seizures, imprisonment, and firings of

journalists specifically related to their work as journalists. In that

year,

the front pages of the nation's newspapers would regularly have entire

sections blocked out and marked "CENSURADO," censored, because governmental

authorities ordered that specific stories not be published.

Before the Bolivarian Constitution of 1999, which guarantees press freedom

in that country to a degree that never existed prior, there were laws on

the

books that expressly forbade freedom of the press: the 1940

Telecommunications Act allowing for prior censorship, by the government, of

every media; harsh penalties for any reporter who did not reveal his

confidential sources to the government; a code of military and government

secrecy; later came the 1994 law requiring that any citizen, to legally

practice journalism, must have a college degree (which, in a poor country

with a terrible education system was akin to a ban on press freedom by the

majority of its citizens). There was a law on "state secrets" that stated

"national administrative public records are, by their nature, reserved for

official use."

Today, as a direct result of the choices, democratically made, by the

majority of Venezuela's citizens, there is more press freedom than has ever

existed in Venezuela. But your organization's ideological blinders have

prevented you from acknowledging the fast progress and good work that has

been accomplished. Until last month, when the pro-coup forces unjustly

arrested journalist Nicolás Rivera, not a single journalist was in prison

in

Venezuela under the Chávez government.

Let me, please, analyze some of your organization's most inaccurate and

outrageous statements from that February 2001 report. CPJ wrote:

"Chávez relies on direct access to his supporters, allowing him to

marginalize all other institutions, including the press."

Please explain, as part of this international dialogue on the role of

"press

freedom" organizations, how "relying on direct access to his supporters"

thus "allows" Chávez "to marginalize all other institutions, including the

press"?

Chávez is hardly the only elected leader who speaks directly to the public

via the airwaves. You would be hard pressed to find any leader - from

George

W. Bush and Bill Clinton before him to Vicente Fox and his weekly radio

show

in Mexico - who do not avail themselves of that same "direct access."

The flip side of that coin - ignored by CPJ in this hypocritical document -

is the right of the public to have "direct access" to its elected leaders.

In fact, this entire "Radio Chávez" report smacks of an elitism and

hostility toward the public and its free speech and other democratic

rights.

CPJ writes that Chávez has:

"…maintained a consistently antagonistic attitude toward the media. His

diatribes have to some extent undermined the credibility of the press,

making local journalists vulnerable to legal and even physical attacks."

This is as if to say that the public has no legitimate grievances with a

corrupted and interested commercial media that has denied it voice in a

systematic and serial manner for years, dating well before Chávez was

elected president. The public, in the fantasy world of this CPJ document

and

others like it, is portrayed as consisting of mere sheep who blindly follow

their elected leader.

I am a journalist who has spoken, face to face, with hundreds of members of

the public on all sides of the political disputes in Venezuela -

specifically to investigate issues of press freedom, the behavior of the

media (commercial and community journalists alike) and public attitudes

about the press - and I tell you: CPJ is so inaccurate and wrong on this

matter that it has undermined its own credibility as a defender of press

freedom.

The "undermining" of the "credibility of the press" in Venezuela has one

author and one author only: The commercial press has undermined its own

credibility. As a class, the commercial media in Venezuela, and

particularly

in the capital city of Caracas, is the shoddiest, most unprofessional, most

inaccurate, most anti-pluralistic, and most un-credible regional media in

the entire hemisphere, perhaps save that in Paraguay. To blame that on

Chávez, as CPJ has done, is insulting to the Venezuelan public. It reverses

the process of which came first: Undermined press credibility or Chávez?

CPJ

states that Chávez is the cause of undermined press credibility. Today I

inform you that he is not the cause, but, rather, the result of it. And

when

he criticizes the corrupt behavior of the media in that country, he truly

represents the views of a majority of the public that elected him, in part,

to be a bulwark against the abuses by the commercial media.

The portrayal of the public as led around by the nose by its elected leader

is elitist and hostile to democratic values, and as a journalist and as a

citizen I expect more from an organization that claims to protect

journalists and press freedom. At very least, I - and others like me -

expect a considered exploration of both sides of the Venezuela story, and

not the one-sided fictional account that CPJ has now offered for four

years.

When, in this document, your organization quotes Sergio Dahbar, associate

editor at El Nacional, as saying, "This government doesn't know how to

handle ... the possibility that many ideas can coexist in a society" - and

then you lift out his quote as if you are saying it yourselves in the

visual

presentation of this document - you are quoting, in fact, an official of a

newspaper that is more guilty of that accusation than the government it

accuses.

I would urge you, strongly, for example to interview El Nacional reporter

Vanessa Davies - a nationally respected, award winning, champion of

investigative journalism in Venezuela - as I have done. Ms. Davies - as

well

as the representatives of the union at El Nacional - can explain to CPJ

precisely how it is the censorious management of El Nacional that "doesn't

know how to handle… the possibility that many ideas can coexist in a

society." Ms. Davies has been censored from writing about political matters

at that paper, as have others. I would urge you read, as I do, daily El

Nacional's website: there is only one set of ideas allowed in that

newspaper, and a constant campaign of disinformation against any other set

of ideas. It is one of the worst, most inaccurate and knowingly dishonest

newspapers in all América. And if your staff at all took the time to read

that newspaper, its published reporters and columnists, it would reach the

same conclusion.

So many of CPJ's statements and fears expressed about the Chávez government

in Venezuela are in the realm of the hypothetical, like this one:

"Is Chávez a new and improved Latin American populist, out to transform

Venezuela's corrupt political culture for the people's sake? Or is he an

aspiring Latin American strongman who will turn repressive when his

popularity starts to wane?"

This discourse is almost verbatim lifted from the propaganda of the United

States government and the Otto Reich regime in the State Department

regarding Venezuela, and it reveals a partiality, bias and myopia that is

unbecoming of a serious "press freedom" organization.

I remind you that all the hypothetical fears you have expressed over four

years regarding Venezuela have not come true, in terms of the actions of

the

elected government there. To the contrary, the forces that have "turned

repressive" are the factions that your organization has consistently

championed: the corrupted commercial media - including El Nacional and your

financier The Cisneros Group - who have forced a censorship on their own

reporters as part of their support for a bloody coup d'etat that abolished

Congress, the Supreme Court and the Constitution, and launched - as Part I

of our series reported from Venezuela documents - a systematic and violent

campaign of attacks against the independent Community Media of Venezuela.

Impunity is a word that all of us who seek to defend press freedom must

report on. I beg of you and your staff at the Committee to Protect

Journalists to consider - and correct - the impunity that you have provided

to the true usurpers of press freedom in Venezuela by your willful

abandonment of the real journalists at risk in the Community Media of that

country, and your unquestioning endorsement of the statements of interested

and corrupted members of the commercial media who, during those three days

in April 2002, demonstrated their hostility to the democratic and

free-speech principles that your organization has attributed to them.

Your organization, in its drumbeat of inaccurate statements about

Venezuela,

and in the way you have shirked your role as defender of the truly

threatened, and now imprisoned, journalists there, has done a great

disservice to the very cause you claim to champion.

Unfortunately, if the rank-and-file public and its elected leaders of

Venezuela or other countries told you this, you would probably accuse them

of threatening your freedom of speech, as you have disingenuously and

repeatedly claimed when the public has fought bad speech with more speech.

However, I remind you, this critique comes from a journalist, one who has

had to defend, more than most (and less than some, thankfully), his own

press freedom, who has won important legal rights for all journalists as a

result, and who reflects the views of a great many authentic journalists

and

community media workers. We are now going to have this discussion within

our

profession: Journalists to journalists and speaking, in open public view,

to

the organizations that claim to protect us. It is not only our right, but

our duty, to clean up our own profession, and to do it using the very

weapon

that we hold sacred: Speech.

Welcome to the dialogue. I hope you will enter it and answer each of the 18

questions above in a spirit of full disclosure, self-criticism and

self-correction.

Your organization, in its behavior regarding Venezuela and its abandonment

of persecuted journalists who don't agree with your inaccurate and

interested assessment of what has occurred there, has done great harm to

the

very principles you are organized to defend.

It is time for you, Ms. Cooper, as an individual, and for every member of

your staff and board of directors to do some soul-searching about your

role.

As a journalist, I ask: Do you exist to protect us or not?

You could start by protecting Nicolás Rivera and the Community Media

journalists of Venezuela, in accordance with your own stated mission and

rules, and by answering my 18 questions for you, which I will repeat, as

addendum, below, for your convenience.

As your own William Orme stated in the introduction to your 1997 report:

"We have learned that international pressure, from journalists on behalf of

their fellow journalists, can be highly effective."

And:

"If journalists don't stand up for other journalists who are fighting for

press freedom, who will?"

And that is why I have written you this letter and 18 questions that, I

hope

you will agree, deserve thorough and self-critical answers.

Sincerely,

Al Giordano

Publisher

The Narco News Bulletin

http://www.narconews.com/

narconews@hotmail.com

18 Questions for the

Committee to Protect Journalists:

1. Does the 1997 statement by William Orme on behalf of the Committee to

Protect Journalists, broadly defining "who is a journalist," continue to

represent the position of CPJ?

2. Will CPJ, now having been reminded of its own stated definition and

mission, investigate and denounce the illegal detentions of radio

journalists Nicolás Rivera of Radio Perola, and Jorge Quintero and Lenín

Méndez of Radio Senderos?

3. Will CPJ address the root cause of these attacks: the existence of rogue

police forces and coup-plotters that enjoy a particular kind of impunity

precisely because they are supported by the commercial media corporations

of

Venezuela?

4. Will CPJ finally denounce the illegal raids and threats on April 11th,

12th and 13th 2002 by the Carmona dictatorship against Radio Perola, Radio

Catia Libre, TV Catia and Radio Fé y Alegría (broadcaster of the Catholic

Church)?

5. Will CPJ finally denounce the April coup attempt - and any future coup

attempts in Venezuela or against any democratically elected government on

earth - as a prima facie threat to press freedom?

6. Will CPJ consider a public apology to the Community Media journalists of

Venezuela, and to the public at large, for having been "asleep at the

wheel"

in not having denounced the coup d'etat as it was happening last April, and

make the internal organizational corrections to ensure that this kind of

negligence by a press-freedom organization will never happen again during a

time of crisis?

7. Of particular interest to those of us who are Internet journalists (and

of obvious personal interest to Narco News and me): Does the Committee to

Protect Journalists embrace the case law established by the New York

Supreme

Court in December 2001 in the case of Banco v. Menéndez et al, which

established, A. a higher standard upon Plaintiffs in libel lawsuits for

establishing jurisdiction on foreign journalists in U.S. courts, and; B.

the

landmark ruling that extended First Amendment protections (under Sullivan

v.

NY Times) to Internet journalists if we engage in responsible and basic

journalistic practices?

8. Will CPJ investigate and denounce the censorship by all of the

commercial

television stations in Venezuela on April 12th and 13th 2002 against their

own journalists, that - nobody today disputes that there was a news

blackout

- prevented their own journalists from reporting the facts about the

counter-coup by Civil Society against the military-installed dictatorship

of

those days?

9. Will CPJ investigate and denounce the threats by Miguel Angel Martínez

of

the Chamber of Radio Broadcasters to "interfere" with the frequencies of

Community radio and TV broadcasters utilizing the technology and equipment

of the commercial broadcasters affiliated with his organization?

10. Will CPJ investigate and denounce the forced closure of Channel 8 - the

public television network in Venezuela - by the Carmona dictatorship in

April 2002 and the complete silence by the commercial media about this

threat upon a public media outlet?

11. What is CPJ's position on the participation by commercial news

gathering

organizations such as the daily El Nacional and the daily La Hora in

Venezuela in censoring their own pages last April 9th in order to join a

politically-partisan "national strike" that - it is clear to everyone, in

retrospect - had the goal of provoking the April 11th coup d'etat?

12. Given that so much of CPJ's funding comes from commercial news

organizations, profit-making corporations or their non-profit foundations,

how does CPJ guard against allowing the reality of funding sources to

determine a more vigorous defense of "paid speech" by commercial

journalists

over the press freedoms that truly involve "free speech" by non-profit,

community, independent, shoestring or low-budget Internet publications?

13. What safeguards, if any, has CPJ put in place to assure that media

companies that donate to CPJ do not get favorable treatment over

journalists

who either don't contribute to your organization or who, because they are

not wealthy, have not been able to contribute to your work?

14. Specifically regarding the situation in Venezuela: One of your

contributors is the Cisneros Group of Venezuela, owners of Globovision TV,

one of the companies that censored its own journalists in April 2002 from

reporting on the counter-coup underway in that country. Have the Cisneros

Group's contributions prevented CPJ or made you reluctant to criticize the

threats against press freedom caused by the Cisneros Group's own actions

during the crisis of last April?

15. Does your more aggressive and active defense of commercial journalists

than of non-profit journalists reflect the realities of fundraising in this

era?

16. Has CPJ's financing from commercial media organizations caused your

staff to ignore these systematic and violent attacks on independent

journalists during these world trade meetings across the globe?

17. Should CPJ address and denounce the exclusion of non-profit,

independent, community and Internet journalists from press credentials by

governments and trade organizations as threats upon press freedom?

18. Will CPJ, now that this matter has been brought to your attention,

assign its staff to monitor and investigate these predictable attacks

during

future world trade meetings and anti-globalization protests?

Read Part I of This Series:

http://www.narconews.com/communitymedia1.html

Lea Ud. Parte I en Español:

http://www.narconews.com/medioscomunitarios1.html

Read Our Letter to Reporters Without Borders:

http://www.narconews.com/letterwithoutborders1.html

Read Our Letter to the Interamerican Press Association

http://www.narconews.com/iapaletter1.html

For More Narco News:

http://www.narconews.com/

"If Journalists Don't Stand Up for

Journalists, Who Will?





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