After serving five months of a year-long sentence, journalist William Ojeda was released from prison in June. Ojeda became a cause celebre in November 1996 after he was convicted of defamation for statements made in a book on corruption in the Venezuelan judiciary titled How Much is a Judge Worth?
The decision by President Rafael Caldera to pardon Ojeda came in response to sustained pressure from the Venezuelan media and journalists organizations who were outraged by the jail sentence. But any expectation that the Ojeda pardon represented a thaw in the tense relationship between the press and Caldera was quickly dispelled. In the months prior to the Ibero-American summit (an annual gathering of Latin American, Spanish, and Portuguese leaders) held in November on the Venezuelan island of Margarita, Caldera proposed that the attending governments affirm the "right to truthful and timely information." Behind the seemingly innocuous idea was a plan to regulate coverage and bar journalists from giving opinions.
"Caldera knows that through the dissemination of unlimited information his government will be unmasked," wrote columnist José Vicente Rangel in the daily El Universal. Caldera's proposal, vigorously opposed by Venezuelan journalists and Latin American press organizations, was not ratified at the summit.
While the government has been unsuccessful in mandating that journalists report what it defined as the "truth," the practice of journalism in Venezuela requires a license and a college degree under the 1994 Law for the Practice of Journalism. The legislation is opposed by media owners, who have petitioned the Supreme Court to strike it down
The theft of computer and personal files from prominent columnist Alfredo Peña in July raised suspicions that the action may have been taken in response to a series of recent articles about government corruption. The case remains under investigation.
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