We all know censorship exists. But it is more difficult to determine to what extent censorship exists in any given country. Political cartoonists often operate at the borders of what is allowed to be published, and they are probably the best gauges we have when it comes to measuring press freedom.
But what if cartoonists themselves do not a agree that there actually is censorship, or do not agree with each other about the level of censorship that exists? In February of this year, we interviewed three Cuban cartoonists about working in Cuba. Surprisingly, they did not feel they were heavily censored in their work. This is surprising, because Cuba is ranked 171 (out of 179 countries) in the Free Press Index 2013.
This month, we noticed Emilio Agra commenting on an interview with Rayma Suprani in the webdoc 'No Laughing Matter'. Rayma Suprani is also a Venezuelan cartoonist, and in her experience, there is much censorship in Venezuela. She is very critical of the Venezuelan government, and has been threatened and intimidated because of her work. To hear her side of the story, watch this interview in the webdoc, and read this interview from 2012 at Sampsonia Way. According to Emilio, Ramya's claims about the Venezuelan media are untrue, and her fear of oppression is exaggerated.
Intrigued by his perspective, we talked to Emilio to find out more. Before going into the issue of censorship, he is keen to explain his stance on Venezuelan politics. Although he has a favorable attitude to the policies of the Chavez-government (and now, since the death of Chavez, lead by Nicolás Maduro), he says he is not blind to the many shortcomings of those in power. But for the most part, he is very critical of the United States and their interest in the wealth of resources that Venezuela has to offer. In his view, the portrayal to the outside world of Venezuela as unfree and dictatorial might well be a strategy of the US using the international media to regain the influence they lost with Chavez's rise to power.
No, there is no censorship in Venezuela. Neither Rayma nor any cartoonist or reporter can say that did not publish anything for censorship. Even absurd and false news is published, and nothing happens. A cartoonist from one of the best known newspapers of the country made a cartoon that openly called to kill the president. This cartoonist still publishes today.
In your comment you mention that Venezuela has 120 newspapers (10 of which are state -owned or pro-government), of which 7 have national coverage. How many of these are state-owned or pro-government?
'The national newspapers are 'Ultimas Noticias' (currently the largest circulation), 'El Nacional', '2001', 'El Universal', 'El Mundo', 'Meridiano' (sports), 'Tal Cual', El Nuevo País'. These are all private. Government property are 'El Correo del Orinoco', 'Ciudad CCS' (only in Caracas) and 'Ciudad Petare' (only in part of eastern Caracas) and pro-government is the newspaper 'Vea'.
This is speaking only of the newspapers that are published in the capital and newspapers with nationwide coverage.'
Venezuela is placed 117th (out 179 countries) on the press freedom index of 2013. How do you explain that?
'I cannot explain it. We should know who makes that list and on what basis; if they are guided by the headlines and not by facts, it is logical that they are so poorly informed.
By the way, that reminds me the list of countries labeled as 'terrorists'. Who decides?'
Ramya Suprani received threats because of her work, and Amnesty International called on the Venezuelan government to launch an impartial and thorough investigation. Why do you think Amnesty International felt the need to call for attention?
'If we talk of threats and insults, I might do a show with Twitter and threatening emails I received. The situation of political polarization in the country (which is much to blame to malicious media), leads to many 'exalted' and fanatical posturing on both sides, and threats which are no more than that. In my case I have not made noise with the threats I received.
Of course Amnesty International's work is to prevent these incidents and they must presume that the threats are serious.It is the state that determines the severity with which to investigate the matter. In the case of Rayma, is most likely that the Public Ministry has dismissed the case because in the end it just seemed like the action of some exalted anonymous.'
Here is an excerpt from the news of Rayma's complaint, published in the same newspaper where she works:
ALICIA DE LA ROSA | EL UNIVERSAL
Friday March 22, 2013 24:25 Caracas. - The cartoonist for El Universal, Rayma Suprani, went to the Attorney General's Office to report that has been the victim of threats and insults again, this time through anonymous messages on her cell phone and social networks.
The journalist and cartoonist took the opportunity to call the NGOs and the National College of Journalists (CNP) to issue statements warning and urge the state to the practice of journalism is respected.
"Journalism has to get ahead in these times and defend with the criticism, self-criticism and try to understand that this is not a given profession for brave is an exercise like any other and we are intimidating," she added.
In 2012, Rayma Suprani denounced 'La Hojilla' show host Mario Silva, for calling her work 'racist, classist and following instructions of the Empire.'
Are Venezuelan journalists regularly in danger for criticizing the government?
'Absolutely not. The strongest evidence is that all of those who say today that there is no freedom of expression, have been saying it for fourteen years, every day. Is incongruous to claim freely in all media that there is no freedom of communication!'
Do you have trust in the government to protect/support writers, cartoonists etc. who are threatened because they criticize the regime?
'The word 'regime' is always used to negatively qualify a government. It is used with de facto governments (governments that may have seized power illegally), but in Venezuela sixteen elections were held in fourteen years, so the word 'regime' should not be used. Nobody calls the Obama administration a 'regime', in spite of having won the elections with a very narrow margin and acting worse than de facto regimes.
To answer your question, I believe that if the state would fail to protect free press, it would not only seriously damage the government's image, it would also be in contradiction with what this political project preaches.'
All images by Emilio Agra.