|A group of media owners has petitioned the Supreme Court to overturn
the 1994 Law for the Practice of Journalism, which mandates that journalists
must have both a university degree and a license. The court is expected to
rule on the law's constitutionality in early 1999.
Just prior to the December presidential election, there were reports in the
press that Hugo Chávez, a former colonel and the leading presidential
candidate, had plotted to shoot journalists and opposition leaders if the
vote did not go in his favor. Chávez vigorously denied the reports,
describing them as an attempt by his opponents to discredit him. He won the
election handily, and will take office in February 1999.
Defamation is a criminal offense in Venezuela punishable by up to 18 months
in prison. While journalists say that legal action is rare, William Ojeda
was convicted in 1996 of defaming two judges in a book he wrote on corruption
in the judiciary and served five months in prison in 1997.