CARACAS – Venezuela’s National Assembly said Tuesday that the Attorney General’s Office has no legislative powers and thus, has no standing to submit a bill proposing jail time for “media offenses.”
The AG office “has no legislative powers” and for that reason the bill proposed by Attorney General Luisa Ortega “has not been approved” to be debated in parliament, assembly secretary Ivan Zerpa said.
In telephone calls to several media outlets, Zerpa said he was speaking out because those very outlets told their audiences that the lawmakers would begin Tuesday to debate Ortega’s bill.
One of the bill’s articles says that “any person who divulges false news through the media that upsets public peace ... will be sentenced to prison from two to four years.”
Ortega told lawmakers last Thursday the measure was needed to address “new kinds of crime that result from the abusive exercise of freedom of information and opinion.”
A day later, the leftist government of President Hugo Chavez expressed its support for the project amid the widespread rejection by associations of journalists and media executives.
“It’s agreeable that after so long, by means of a law, this can be done,” Public Works and Housing Minister Diosdado Cabello, who heads the Conatel agency that regulates broadcasting, said last Friday.
He decried the “poisoning” of society by the overwhelmingly opposition-controlled media and said that freedom of expression should not be regarded as “the most sacred of freedoms.”
Cabello commented hours before announcing that Conatel revoked the concessions of 34 radio broadcasters nationwide due to various licensing violations.
He said the radio broadcasters were among a group of 240 stations that recently failed to update their registrations, let their concessions expire or were operating under licenses granted to individuals who are no longer alive.
Venezuela’s CNP journalists guild warned last week that approval of the Ortega bill would “put citizens a step away from being punished for having opinions and making them public.”
“The siege against radio stations that do not parrot the official slogans; the promotion of a new journalism law; the harassing of TV networks and newspapers and the criminalization of political dissidence” are all part of the “attack,” the CNP said. EFE