Venezuela's independent media has been
substantially weakened under President Hugo Chavez because of
regulatory threats and restricted access to information, the New
York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said Wednesday.
The government has blocked critical coverage, closed broadcasters, sued reporters, excluded journalists from official events and harassed critics, the CPJ said in a report.
"The Chavez administration has used an array of legislation, threats and regulatory measures to gradually break down Venezuela's independent press while building up a state media empire - a complete reversal of the previous landscape. One result: Vital issues are going uncovered in an election year," the CPJ said.
In such a scenario, the group said, many journalists and media outlets are resorting to self-censorship "to sidestep the potential fines or prison terms."
It said key issues such as "Chavez's health, rising unemployment, overcrowded prisons, and the condition of Venezuela's vital state-run energy sector" were under reported.
But, before Chavez took office in 1999, the situation was hardly ideal. "Major newspapers and television and radio stations were dominated by a private-sector, business-oriented elite determined to shield its audience from leftist and socialist views," the CPJ said.
"When critics accuse Chavez of a media power grab, his loyalists counter that the government effectively democratized the press by wresting control from a powerful oligarchy with its own agenda," it said.
CPJ said that "the resulting polarization is reflected in the news coverage leading up to the elections," and complained that "a balanced, probing look" at either Chavez or his challenger Henrique Capriles is missing.
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