And they say Venezuela lacks press freedom?

They’re full of shit. Take a look at what’s happening in Colombia and THEN talk to me about Venezuelan journalists who are allegedly being muzzled:

Exposing outlaws — be they drug traffickers, leftist rebels or right-wing militias — risks assassination.

Over the past decade, 28 journalists have been killed in Colombia, making it the second-most dangerous country to report from after Iraq, according to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists. Most of the crimes against Colombian journalists, committed by all sides of the country’s civil conflict, are never solved.

Only one journalist has been slain over the past two years, a decline President Alvaro Uribe has attributed to the success of his strong-handed security policies. Yet several journalists say there are fewer killings because their work has never been more muzzled.

A CPJ report last year entitled “Untold Stories” found more than 30 radio, TV and print journalists who acknowledged soft-pedaling or turning a blind eye to important news.

And from the CPJ article:

On some occasions, verified news is suppressed shortly before broadcast or publication. In other cases, probing journalists are killed, detained, or forced to flee. More often, investigations never even get started. The issues shortchanged are human rights abuses, armed conflict, political corruption, drug trafficking, and links from officials to illegal armed groups. Journalists end up focusing instead on "pleasant topics like fauna and flora," says Angel María León, news chief of Arauca’s RCN Radio affiliate.

Communities pay a high price. "Any region without investigative journalism is going to have impunity," says Jaime Vides Feria of Radio Caracolí in Sincelejo, a provincial capital near the Caribbean coast.

And the self-censorship has international dimensions. The Uribe administration, for example, is pushing for U.S. and European funding of a $130 million plan to reintegrate the demobilized paramilitaries into society. But foreign taxpayers can hardly judge whether the plan might bring peace if the press doesn’t dare investigate drug trafficking by paramilitaries or their civilian attacks.

"We’re talking about serial massacres—extremely cruel deaths with torture," notes reporter Beatriz Diegó Solano of El Universal, a daily newspaper that curtailed its investigation of scores of unmarked graves discovered near Sincelejo this year. "Do you think these people are going to become corn farmers? They’re psychopaths."

And it appears Alvaro Uribe has NO PROBLEM trusting them. Now he wants the rest of the world to do the same?

But wait…it gets better:

Uribe, speaking at a March conference of news executives, urged media outlets to exercise "self-control" and consider barring the publication of interviews with members of illegal armed groups. "The terrorists maintain a very dangerous political game," he said. "One day they kill and the next they want to be news personalities."

In a June 27 radio interview, Uribe admonished one journalist in particular. He said Hollman Morris, a Colombian television reporter who has written critically about the administration’s security policies, had traveled to the southern province of Putumayo based on advance knowledge of June 25 FARC attacks that killed 25 government troops there. The allegation turned out to be false: Morris, who was working on a BBC documentary, arrived after the clashes. The president’s office retracted the claim, but Morris says he had to cut his Putumayo visit short in fear of retaliation.

So it’s not just locals, but the international media too who are being put at risk here. And for what? So the FARC don’t come off in a more positive light than the right-wing paramilitaries, whom Uribe seems unusually eager to push as future model citizens? WTF???

But you haven’t heard the worst of it yet:

On May 16, funeral wreaths were delivered to the offices of three nationally known journalists whose work often cast negative light on the Uribe administration. The wreaths came with cards inviting the journalists to their own burials. One of the three, Daniel Coronell, also received e-mail messages threatening the life of his 6-year-old daughter. Coronell, who directs a news show on the TV network Canal Uno and writes a column for the weekly magazine Semana, tracked the messages to a computer in the Bogotá mansion of former Congressman Carlos Náder Simmonds, a close friend of Uribe. Náder denied sending the threats but admitted they came from his computer. An investigation by the attorney general’s office has shed no light.

Gee, I wonder why. Couldn’t be orders from On High, could it? Noooo, perish the thought. After all, Uribe’s as pure as the driven slush. And if you don’t believe me, just consider what the man who’s up for re-election this year did to get into power in the first place:

EL DIFICIL, Colombia – Amid the biggest Colombian scandal since drug traffickers helped finance a presidential candidacy, electoral judges and voters in this remote town are supporting allegations of vote fraud in 2002 that favored President Alvaro Uribe.

Right-wing paramilitary fighters forced election judges to fill in uncast votes for the conservative Uribe and discard votes for his rival, Liberal Party candidate Horacio Serpa, three of the judges here told The Miami Herald.

The judges’ comments support recent accusations by Rafael García, a former official at the security agency known as DAS, similar to the FBI. Colombia’s media and several nongovernment organizations have regularly made parallel allegations in recent weeks, and the attorney general’s office opened an investigation into the fraud charges last week.

Coming ahead of balloting May 28 in which Uribe is expected to win a second term, the allegations have unleashed the country’s biggest scandal since the 1994 presidential race, when drug lords contributed $6 million to former President Ernesto Samper’s campaign.

The scandal also has highlighted Uribe’s strong support among the illegal and notoriously brutal paramilitary groups fighting leftist guerrillas. More than 30,000 paramilitaries have put down their guns since 2004 as part of peace talks with the government, and Uribe has promised not to extradite some of their leaders — wanted on U.S. drug charges — if they stay with the peace process.

Or at least, if they give the appearance thereof. With the help of a nice, tame media, of course. And if the media’s not tame enough, they get funeral wreaths.

And, O the charm of it all, death threats against their young daughters.

Now, Venezuelan private media honchos: cry me another river about how repressed YOU are. The worst thing you’re facing right now is treason charges for your very prominent part in the attempted assassination of your democratically and cleanly elected president. Nobody’s got a gun to your head, but to hear the way you kvetch to the CPJ, Reporters Without Borders, the IAPA (oops, waitaminute, isn’t that one already in the Miami Mafia’s pocket?) and Human Rights Watch, one would think you had the next Hitler offering you a one-way ticket to Auschwitz!

Meanwhile, the media venom continues to flow absolutely unchecked in Caracas–and New York. Yep, gotta strike back against that government repression of free speech!

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