Venezuelan news site accused of "attacking constitutional order" and "supporting a coup d’état"

On Sunday, Hugo Chávez ordered a federal investigation of one of the nation’s most widely read online news sources, Noticiero Digital.

On his live, weekly television program, Aló Presidente, Chávez accused Noticiero Digital of “attacking constitutional order” and “supporting a coup d’état” after columnist Roberto Carlos Olivares wrote of “retired military officers and patriots” aiming to implement a “civil-military transition” in state leadership as early as next year.
Olivares concluded [ES]:

"La unión cívico-militar se encargará de pulverizar a la peste chavista y al tirano traidor. En el corazón de la patria y aunque muchos todavía no lo vean, soplan aires nobles y emancipadores de libertad, justicia y paz. Tengan Fe, Chávez será derrocado…"

[EN]: "A civil-military union will take on the task of pulverizing the Chavista plague and the tyrant himself. Although many people don’t see it, in the heart of the nation there are noble winds blowing, releasing liberty, justice, and peace. Have faith, Chavez will be taken down…"1

In an interview with Reporters without Borders, Noticiero Digital editor Juan Eduardo Smith stated that the site, which has 120 contributing columnists throughout the country, and a public forum with over 120,000 members, “does not censor its columnists…our role is quite the opposite – to permit the free flow of news and opinion on the assumption that this allows the truth to emerge…We are not expecting any kind of punishment and we reiterate our readiness to cooperate in any investigation.” The site’s readership has increased significantly as the Chávez government has tightened regulations for print media in Venezuela.

The investigation will mark the second of its kind. In March of 2010, Chávez ordered an investigation of Noticiero Digital after public forum members published false messages stating that telecommunications Minister Diosdado Cabello had been assassinated. Chávez rationalized his call for an investigation, quoting German chancellor Angela Merkel [ES]:

“…ella dice una cosa que es muy cierta: Internet no puede ser una cosa libre donde se haga y se diga lo que sea. No. Cada país tiene que poner sus reglas y normas.”

[EN]: “…she has said that one thing is certain: the Internet cannot be a free space where one can do and say whatever one wants. No. Every country has to place its own rules and norms [on Internet use].”

Venezuelan news blog Venelogia noted that Merkel’s statement was in reference to child pornography, not political speech. Many in the Venezuelan and South American media have called the investigation of the news site’s editorial board an “act of intimidation,” but whether it will affect coverage or editorial protocol at Noticiero Digital, or other prominent news sites in the nation, remains to be seen.

  • 1. All translations by author