To HRW re Venezuela and International Norms for Dissent

Dear Human Rights Watch

In your recent statement on Venezuela, you take two examples of the Venezuelan government regulating private media (and those two cases may indeed be reasonably challenged)  to make the following sweeping claim:

Over the years, the Chávez government has built a legal regime that allows it to censor and punish its critics, in clear violation of international norms. Now it is using these laws to limit public discussion on issues of national importance. “

If the “international norm” is to allow groups who violently deposed an elected government – as Chavez opponents did, with the help of major broadcasters, for 2 days in 2002 in addition to perpetrating massive sabotage of the economy after the coup failed – to maintain a greater audience share than the government, then your statement is true.  However, that is manifestly NOT the “international norm”. I shudder to think what would happen to media outlets in the USA or Canada who were even loosely affiliated with people who had engaged in coup attempts or major economic sabotage.

Detailed studies (here, here and here) of the Venezuelan media have shown that Henrique Capriles had the edge over Chavez in media coverage during crucial months of the recent electoral campaign. In fact, CEPR showed that as of 2010 Venezuelan state media had only about a 5% audience share.

These studies show why it is incredibly misleading for HRW to claim that Globovision is “the only remaining television station with national coverage consistently critical of Chávez’s policies”. No matter how you quibble about what “national coverage” means, this remark is indefensible unless your intention is to convince people that it is the only anti-Chavez broadcaster.

By any sane criteria, Venezuela has greatly surpassed any “international norms” for the tolerance of dissent. HRW’s relentless efforts to convince people otherwise would be quickly exposed as outrageous if not for the lack of free expression in many countries, in particular the USA, where the demonization of the Chavez government is very rarely challenged.

Joe Emersberger

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