Venezuela’s Lesson in Free Speech

As members of the PR industry, we realize the media plays a critical role in our livelihoods. We use the media to communicate with target publics and to stay informed about the ever-changing external environments of our clients and organizations. The right to freedom of speech allows us to do so without fear that the news we consume is controlled by the government, and without fear of being prosecuted for expressing opinions.

The freedom of speech is not merely accepted in American society—it is a constitutional right. We expect the media to act as watchdogs, exposing corruption in business and government; we do not expect government censorship of the media. However, this is not the case in all countries.

Recently, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez cracked down on the media in his own country. Chavez shut down at least 34 private radio stations, saying the stations did not comply with regulations. Many critics believe the stations were shut down for being critical of President Chavez, although Chavez denies the allegations. The Venezuelan government has also threatened to shut down Globovision, the only remaining television channel in Venezuela that strongly criticizes Chavez.

In a recent article on CNN.com about the radio station closures, Venezuelan Minister of Public Works and Housing Diosdado Cabello said, “Freedom of expression is not the most sacred freedom.” As a PR student and as an American, I find this statement outrageous. Although no one freedom is officially held more sacred than another in our nation, the freedom of speech lies at the core of democracy. When the citizens of a nation cannot freely express opinion, that nation’s government has the power to run rampant and abuse the rights of its citizens.

We, as members of the PR industry, should take the situation in Venezuela as an example. We must strive to uphold freedom of speech so that the rights we often take for granted will not be taken from us.

by Meg Watson

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