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Court Rules on Press Content

June 16, 2001

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) _ A Supreme Court ruling on the political content of newspapers drew charges Friday that the judges were infringing on press freedoms.

The high court said Thursday that a newspaper cannot promote a single political viewpoint in the majority of its articles unless it has openly declared its political leanings.

The judges, appointed by government-controlled Congress, ruled that newspapers that don’t strike this balance would violate a clause in the constitution requiring information to be ``truthful.″

It was not immediately known what penalty violators would face.

The decision affects most Venezuelan newspapers, which dedicate the majority of their columns and editorials to criticizing President Hugo Chavez’s leftist government.

Chavez, in a late Friday night television address, didn’t mention the ruling but he again accused the media of conspiring against his so-called ``revolution″ to reform an elitist and corrupt political system.

``The people should know who the owners of the media are. They coordinate with each other and have political purposes that are counter-revolutionary,″ he said.

Human rights activists rushed to condemn the ruling as a violation of freedom of speech.

The InterAmerican Press Association, which fights for press freedoms in Latin America, has accused Chavez of trying to intimidate journalists. The SIP, as the organization is known, has also warned that the constitution’s ``truthful″ information clause could lead to censorship.

Chavez denies the SIP’s accusations and insists there is full freedom of speech in Venezuela because his government has not jailed or censored any journalist.

The fiery nationalist came under criticism this week after threatening to deport foreigners who insult his government or Venezuela.

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