Venezuela prohibits leading newspaper from printing violent photos

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — A court ordered one of Venezuela's leading newspapers on Tuesday to stop publishing photographs depicting blood, guns and other violent images and warned it could face a hefty fine for having published a photo of bodies in a morgue.

Venezuelan officials say the ruling involving El Nacional — one of Venezuela's oldest newspapers and a fierce critic of President Hugo Chavez — aims to protect children and adolescents from violent images, but opponents called the move politically motivated censorship.

In its ruling, the court said it prohibited the newspaper from publishing "images, information and publicity of any type that contains blood, guns, alarming messages or physical aggression images that incorporate warfare content and messages about killings and deaths that could alter the well being of children and adolescents."

The decision came after El Nacional published a photograph on its front page depicting dead bodies in a Caracas morgue. The image accompanied a news story examining Venezuela's failure to stem widespread violent crime.

The court notified El Nacional's editor, Miguel Henrique Otero, that the tribunal received a request for a hefty fine to be levied on the newspaper. The fine could amount to the equivalent of 2 percent of the newspaper's revenue, the court announced.

Otero said the order handed down by the court would effectively force all of Venezuela's newspapers to refrain from publishing any type of violent photographs, including news-related images from international armed conflicts.

If the daily violates the order, he said, it could be shut down.

"They should come and put a censor here and tell us what cannot be published," Otero quipped.

Otero suggested that El Nacional might defy the court order because the newspaper does not plan to change its editorial line or refrain from publishing photographs including violent content.

"This doesn't have anything to do with .... protecting children and juveniles," Otero said. "It's political."

Several other opposition-sided newspapers published the same photograph this week as a show of solidarity with El Nacional.

"There's a terrible string of slayings in the country and that's the issue at hand," said Teodoro Petkoff, editor of the newspaper Tal Cual.

Violent crime is one of Venezuela's most pressing problems, and Chavez foes are raising concerns ahead of legislative elections in September.

Over 12,000 murders were reported during the first 11 months of 2009, making Venezuela one of Latin America's most violent countries. Officials have not released complete homicide statistics this year.

(This version CORRECTS that ruling affects only one newspaper)