Venezuelan news Web site accuses Chavez of seeking to crackdown on cyber-critics

By Christopher Toothaker, AP
Sunday, March 14, 2010

Venezuelan Web site rejects Chavez’s allegations

CARACAS, Venezuela — A Venezuelan Web site that was accused by President Hugo Chavez of spreading false reports of killings said Sunday the government is trying to restrict criticism, but announced it had banned the visitors who posted the inaccurate rumors.

Chavez accused Noticiero Digital — a Web site popular among the president’s opponents — of falsely reporting that two of his close political allies had been assassinated, and he called for regulation of the Internet, specifically urging prosecutors to act against the Web site.

“The Internet can’t be something free where anything can be done and said. No, every country has to impose its rules and regulations,” Chavez said in a televised speech on Saturday.

His comments came a few days after the state-run telecommunications company, CANTV, announced that it plans to establish a centralized, government-controlled gateway that all Internet traffic. CANTV President Franco Silva did not say how the system would work, but denied it would be used to control access to the Web.

Noticiero Digital responded Sunday, posting a statement that Chavez’s comments are “a serious threat against freedom of expression, threats that are becoming increasingly frequent in Venezuela, affecting radio stations, the press and now — Internet.”

Chavez and his allies have become increasingly critical in recent weeks of social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook, saying adversaries are using them to slander public officials and deceive the public.

Noticiero Digital conceded that the posts that Chavez singled out on Saturday contained “false rumors” and it announced it the Web site “is taking measures so that these types of incidents do not occur again.”

Noticiero Digital said it “doesn’t practice prior censorship” of comments posted by visitors, but removes posts that it considers inaccurate or irresponsible. The posts that Chavez referred to were yanked from the site hours after they were posted, and the authors of the statements were permanently barred from the site, it said.

The Web site noted that its guests are warned that they are liable for their statements, and denied responsibility for comments made by visitors.

Venezuela’s government revoked the licenses of 34 radio stations last year, saying some failed to update their registrations or allowed their concessions to expire while others held licenses granted to an operator now deceased. Human rights groups have accused Chavez of trying to stifle dissent.

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