Hugo Chavez, probably spurred on by Sean Penn’s idiotic comments about how journalists should be imprisoned for calling him (Chavez, not Penn) a dictator, has proposed limiting free speech on the internet for Venezuela.
This is part of a disturbing trend. Chavez has never been a really big fan of free speech. According to this same Reuters article, he’s been pressuring networks to soften their editorial stances and has refused to renew the license for a network because he didn’t like what they were saying.
“The Internet cannot be something open where anything is said and done. Every country has to apply its own rules and norms,” Chavez said. He cited German Chancellor Angel Merkel as having expressed a similar sentiment recently.
OK, well, no, they don’t have to apply their own restrictions here. Chavez is trying to equate a restriction to norms, and by doing that he can claim that just allowing free speech is just another norm applied in the same way his “norms” are applied to Venezuelan internet users. And it’s a little weird for someone so critical of the West to cite the German head of state as an example of what he wants to do. It’s a little tiny bit hypocritical.
He’s claiming that his problem with these media outlets is that they’re spreading unfounded rumors. But there’s a huge difference between a civil case for libel and criminal charges for being wrong about something on the internet. There’s really no need for anyone to jump to the latter if they haven’t tried the former.
Even if I were in Chavez’s inner circle I’d be advising him to not do this, if only in the interest of self-preservation of the administration. When you sue a gossip website for saying something that isn’t true, you look weak. Even a E-list Hollywood celebrity would be too embarrassed to sue the Weekly World News or the Enquirer for writing stories about them which are obviously not true. It makes you look insecure and whiny.
So when you start locking up journalists or even just internet bloggers (*ahem*), it only shows your enemies an easy way to get under your very thin skin. The only people it would deter from lying about you or trying to start a coup against you are people who would probably be too cowardly or underfunded to do it in the first place anyway.