Reporters Without Borders is worried by President Hugo Chávez’s professed desire to regulate the Internet. Chávez called for Internet regulation on 13 March, at the same time as he called for a criminal prosecution to be brought against Noticiero Digital, a news and comments website that wrongly reported that a minister had been assassinated.
“Imposing restrictions on the Internet will not solve the problem of false reports,” Reporters Without Borders said. “The government is using this case as a pretext for legitimising the regulation of a space that has until now escaped its control. The government has reinforced its control over the media, especially the broadcast media, in recent years. If it tries to do the same with the Internet, online free expression could be in danger.”
Speaking on television on 13 March, President Chávez said: “The Internet cannot be a completely free space, where anything is said or done. No, each country must impose its own rules.”
His comment was prompted by the fact that two visitors to Noticiero Digital’s forum posted reports that infrastructure and telecommunications minister Diosdado Cabello had been assassinated. According to Chávez, the false reports remained online for two days.
Acknowledging that two new members posted this false information, the site’s moderators said it was removed within a few hours of their being notified. The site follows what is standard practice for online forums: it does not screen posts in advance, but it subsequently removes those that are found to have violated user conditions. The administrators’ good faith is therefore not in question. The forum has more than 120,000 members.
President Chávez has reportedly asked Cabello to regulate the Internet. A new bill on telecommunications, information technology and postal services that has been submitted to parliament reportedly provides for website blocking and a single point of entry for all Internet traffic, which would facilitate online surveillance.