Page last updated at 09:32 GMT, Friday, 31 July 2009 10:32 UK

Venezuela mulls tough media law

By Will Grant
BBC News, Caracas, Venezuela

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez watches TV in Caracas on 5 July 2009
The draft law comes at a time of tension over media regulation

A tough new media law, under which journalists could be imprisoned for publishing "harmful" material, has been proposed in Venezuela.

Journalists could face up to four years in prison for publishing material deemed to harm state stability.

Public prosecutor Luisa Ortega Diaz, who proposed the changes, said it was necessary to "regulate the freedom of expression" without "harming it".

The move comes at a time of rising tension over private media regulation.

Under the draft law on media offences, information deemed to be "false" and aimed at "creating a public panic" will also be punishable by prison sentences.

The law will be highly controversial if passed in its current form.

It states that anyone - newspaper editor, reporter or artist - could be sentenced to between six months and four years in prison for information which attacks "the peace, security and independence of the nation and the institutions of the state".

Radio risk

A case which has often been quoted in the bitter arguments over this law is a recent advert in national newspapers by a right-wing think tank, Cedice, which shows a naked woman next to the slogan "The Social Property law will take all you've got, Say No to communist laws".

The government says it has no intention of removing the right to private property and that such publications are irresponsible and designed to breed fear among Venezuelans.

But the opposition says the draft law is an unprecedented attack on private media outlets and journalists in Venezuela.

The proposed bill, which must still be debated on the floor of the assembly, comes as some 240 radio stations in Venezuela are at risk of being closed for allegedly failing to hand their registration papers into the government ahead of a deadline last month.

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