Venezuela: Special rapporteur for freedom of expression concerned about Supreme Court decision upholding law requiring journalists to join professional association



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Press release
Organization of American States
August 2, 2004

Washington, D.C.-The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of
Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR)
expressed regret over the July 27 ruling of the Constitutional Chamber of
Venezuela's Supreme Court upholding a law requiring journalists to be
licensed by an association prescribed by law in order to practice
journalism. The decision declares a constitutional challenge ("recurso de
nulidad") filed in 1995 against various articles of the Law on the
Practice of Journalism of 1994 to be unfounded.

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights, in its fifth consultative
opinion of 1985 (known as OC5/85), determined that compulsory membership
in an association prescribed by law for the practice of journalism is
incompatible with Article 13 of the American Convention on Human Rights,
to which Venezuela is a party. The Court noted that "a law licensing
journalists, which does not allow those who are not members of the
'colegio' to practice journalism and limits access to the 'colegio' to
university graduates who have specialized in certain fields, is not
compatible with the Convention." The Inter-American Court further added
that this type of law "would contain restrictions to freedom of expression
that are not authorized by Article 13(2) of the Convention and would
consequently be in violation not only [of] the right of each individual to
seek and impart information and ideas through any means of his choice, but
also the right of the public at large to receive information without any
interference."

The principal idea clearly defined in this paragraph has been invoked
repeatedly by the Office of the Special Rapporteur since its creation, and
it was reiterated by the IACHR in 2000 in its approval of the Declaration
of Principles on Freedom of Expression. The Declaration develops the
guarantees to freedom of expression under Article 13 of the Convention in
greater depth, with Principle 6 of the Declaration noting that
"[c]ompulsory membership or the requirement of a university degree for the
practice of journalism constitute unlawful restrictions of freedom of
expression." The same principle further notes that "[j]ournalistic
activities must be guided by ethical conduct, which should in no case be
imposed by the State."

The Office of the Special Rapporteur regrets that the highest court of
justice in Venezuela has upheld a law requiring journalists to be licensed
by an association prescribed by law in order to practice journalism
because of the implications that this decision could have for the exercise
of freedom of expression and of the press in Venezuela.




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