Fresh from his re-election in October, President Hugo Chávez Frías sought treatment in Cuba for the recurrence of an unspecified form of cancer, leaving the nation's political landscape in doubt as 2012 came to a close. Chávez said during the campaign that he was free of the cancer that first struck in 2011, although details of his medical condition were shrouded in mystery. In the lead-up to the vote that saw Chávez fend off challenger Henrique Capriles Radonski, the administration continued its systematic campaign against critical news coverage through legislation, threats, and regulatory measures while using unlimited airtime via its state media empire. The election heightened an already polarized environment: Both pro-government and pro-opposition journalists were attacked while covering campaign events. Chávez's campaign against press freedom extended beyond the country's borders in 2012. Venezuela was part of a bloc of countries within the Organization of American States that worked to dismantle the region's system of human rights protection, including the special rapporteur for freedom of expression. The government also announced that it was withdrawing from the American Convention on Human Rights, the first step required in order to pull out from the OAS' two human rights bodies.
The Obama administration continued to clamp down on officials who leak sensitive information to the news media. A former CIA officer pleaded guilty to criminal charges of leaking a covert operative's identity, effectively ending a legal battle by three journalists fighting government subpoenas to testify in the case. The director of national intelligence announced new rules to clamp down on leaks, and the Senate debated a bill that would further impede officials from sharing intelligence information with the press. In issues related to access, a military judge rejected a request by several media outlets to broadcast the Guantánamo Bay trial of suspects accused in the 2000 attack on the USS Cole. And a number of news organizations appealed a military judicial decision to seal documents related to the court-martial of Army Pvt. Bradley Manning, who faced charges of leaking classified documents to WikiLeaks. Reporter James Risen, author Ed Moloney, and documentary filmmaker Ken Burns continued to fight subpoenas that would force them to turn over their unpublished reporting or testify in criminal investigations. Several journalists were arrested covering demonstrations linked to the Occupy movement.
Anti-press violence dipped slightly, but impunity persisted in past attacks. The prosecutor in charge of investigating the 2011 slaying of TV journalist Pedro Alfonso Flores Silva was murdered himself in April 2012, the same week he was to announce his findings. The following month, national police announced that Flores’ murder had been ordered by a local mayor in reprisal for the journalist’s reporting on government corruption, but the mayor was never formally charged in the case. Separately, the former mayor of the city of Coronel Portillo was acquitted in May in connection with the 2004 murder of radio journalist Alberto Rivera Fernandez. After condemnation by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, the Peruvian Supreme Court overturned its own decision to free Alberto Pinto, former head of the military’s intelligence service, who had been serving a 15-year sentence for the 1990s-era murders of civilians, including journalist Pedro Yauri. Pinto went into hiding in the face of an arrest warrant. Several assaults were reported. One journalist was beaten unconscious after reporting on local corruption. Journalists who covered violent protests against a mining project were attacked by police and demonstrators. No journalists were imprisoned in 2012, but two were given suspended prison sentences on criminal defamation charges. A bill that eliminated jail terms for defamation has been stalled in Congress since mid-2011.
Do you believe the free flow of information must be protected? Sign the #RightToReport petition and demand that President Obama immediately:
1. Issue a presidential policy directive prohibiting the hacking and surveillance of journalists and media organizations.
2. Limit aggressive prosecutions that ensnare journalists and intimidate whistleblowers.
3. Prevent the harassment of journalists at the U.S. border.
Or click here to see the full petition, and join leading journalists like Christiane Amanpour, The Guardian’s Alan Rusbridger, Editor of the AP Kathleen Carroll, and Arianna Huffington in signing on.