President Hugo Chávez wants to place restrictions on the Internet in Venezuela after he criticized negative coverage from Noticiero Digital, a website generally opposing the government. The site had incorrectly reported the assassination of a top government official.
Frustration with a false report is understandable. Any broader move to limit news sources, however, appears to follow a pattern of restricting opposing views, such as those expressed through the TV channels Radio Caracas Television and Globovision.
What impact would any Internet restrictions have on personal Internet use? While Chávez spoke about news outlets, Manuel Villalba, a representative in the General Assembly and President of its commission on Science, Technology and Communication, described the use of social networks in spreading anti-government communications. He stated that the Internet required limits, but also emphasized that any action would result from a petition rising from the people. It appears that steps may be taken to put Chávez’s words into action.
An article in El Universal, a paper often critical of the government, discusses the possibility of greater restriction of personal expression via the Internet. There may be a legal approach, such as those inspired by Chávez’s public declarations, as well as less visible moves to block IPs or attempt to slow down the network. Blogs and sites like Twitter and Facebook are not controllable by the government at present, and are probably perceived as a threat.
An effort to restrict the Internet raises the question of how the Venezuela public would react. Regardless of their political leanings, Venezuelans are strong consumers of electronic products, including the Blackberry, which is considered a popular status symbol. The public would likely react strongly (and negatively) to any limits to their access to social networking sites like Facebook.
We will have to wait and see what happens next.
Further information about the situation can be found in El Universal, Ultimas Noticias, and El Nacional, all newspapers published in Caracas. Some information for this post comes from the Associated Press and Reuters.