Status: Not Free
Legal Environment: 25
Political Influences: 30
Economic Pressures: 17
Total Score: 72

Population: n/a
GNI/capita: n/a
Life Expectancy: 73
Religious Groups: Roman Catholic (96 percent), Protestant (2 percent), other (2 percent)
Ethnic Groups: Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Arab, German, African, indigenous people
Capital: Caracas

A hostile political atmosphere under the government of President Hugo Chavez has continued to affect the largely pro-opposition private media. One result has been a steady decline in press freedom over the past several years – a trend that continued in 2005 – reflected in the government's enactment of legislation prohibiting the broadcast of certain material, its intimidation toward and denial of access to private media, and the continued harassment of journalists, directed primarily at those employed by private media outlets.

The legal environment for the press deteriorated in 2005 owing to two new restrictive laws that have increased the severity of punishments for desacato (disrespect) and expanded the "social responsibility" constraints for radio and television. The Law of Social Responsibility in Radio and Television, signed into law in December 2004, contains vaguely worded restrictions that could be applied to severely restrict freedom of expression. For example, the law forbids graphic depictions of violence between 5 am and 11 pm on both television and radio. Another worrying development occurred on March 16, when the so-called overhaul of the penal code took effect. The revised code makes insulting the president punishable by 6 to 30 months in prison and makes comments that could "expose another person to contempt or public hatred" subject to one to three years in prison on top of a severe fine. In July, the Office of the Attorney General invoked the new desacato provisions to investigate the Caracas?based daily El Universal for an article that allegedly criticized his office and the judiciary.

Government cadenas (announcements) require that broadcasters cease regular programming to transmit official messages; 171 such cadenas were issued in 2005, several during the December National Assembly elections. Journalists complained that a lack of access impeded their reporting, including denial of entry to the presidential palace and other official events. In 2005, journalists were barred from reporting on the military, hospitals and stadiums, and the judiciary. On November 1, David Ludovic, writer of the El Nacional newspaper column "A Las Puertas de Palacio" ("At the Palace's Door"), was pressured by the president's security personnel into handing over a tape of interviews done adjacent to the Palacio Blanco, a building in front of the Miraflores presidential palace in downtown Caracas.

Direct assaults against media declined compared with 2004, but journalists still decried authorities' efforts to prevent free reporting, including the forced closure of media outlets. On October 24, officials of the national customs and taxation office (SENIAT) temporarily shut down the operations of the daily El Impulso in the city of Barquisimeto, evicting the administrative and editorial staff. SENIAT also imposed a US$13,900 fine on El Impulso, reportedly in connection with "flaws in the paper's 2002 tax return." Several press freedom advocacy groups protested after a police raid on the home of Venezuelan journalist Patricia Poleo. Poleo's house was raided on January 28 in a search for information that could reveal the identity of her news sources for a story on alleged corruption involving public prosecutor Danilo Anderson, who was murdered in an explosion in November 2004.

The government controls two national television stations, a national radio network, and a wire service. The president has a weekly radio show and exercises his power to preempt programming to ensure extensive broadcasting of government announcements in private media. In July, the government launched Telesur, an international television network, in an attempt to "promote Latin American stories." But when Chavez appointed his minister of communications and information, Andres Izarra, as the network's president, the TV network was perceived as another tool for government propaganda. Izarra later resigned from the ministry to work full-time for the network. There are no government restrictions on the internet, which had 3 million users (12 percent of the population) by March 2005.

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