Venezuela’s Supreme Court yesterday ratified a fine of 9.3 million bolivars (2.162 million dollars) imposed by the radio and television regulator on the private television channel Globovisión over its coverage of prison riots last year.
The fine was imposed by the National Telecommunications Commission under the Radio and TV Social Responsibility Law (Ley Resorte), which has since been extended to cover the Internet.
In June last year, 30 people were killed in several riots at the El Rodeo jail, near Caracas.
“In reporting these critical events that shook Venezuelan’s prison service and were widely deplored by many civil society organizations, how is Globovisión meant to have promoted criminal activity and provoked disturbances of the peace?” Reporters Without Borders asked.
“This perverse decision highlights the dangers inherent in some clauses of the law. Above all, it is a dangerous precedent for freedom to report the news, given the disproportionate financial penalty that threatens the very survival of the media organization concerned.”
“It reflects the harassment of a radio station well-known for its sometimes fierce opposition to the present government.
“The Supreme Court’s verdict is badly timed as the October presidential election approaches and is likely to add to the disastrous polarization of which journalists, whatever their political persuasion, end up as victims.
Besides the fine, Globovisión must also meet legal costs of 6 million bolivars (1.3 million dollars). The Supreme Court has ordered the freezing of the station’s assets of 24.4 million bolivars (5.6 million dollars) – more than twice the amount of the initial fine.
As is to be expected, the court’s ruling is disputed by Globovisión, whose supporters point out that it was issued without waiting for the outcome of a last-ditch nullity petition by the station on the substance of the case. The court rejected two earlier petitions, including one on constitutional grounds.
In order to avoid the asset freeze being carried out, which could lead to the withdrawal of its broadcasting licence, the station has committed itself to paying the initial fine, with effect from today.