Venezuelan newspaper cries 'CENSORED' on front page after court ruling banning violent photos

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — A leading Venezuelan newspaper replaced front-page photos with the word "censored" Wednesday to protest a court's monthlong ban on the publication of information and photos about violence.

The declarations in the daily El Nacional appeared a day after the ruling, requested by pro-government groups who cited the need to protect children and adolescents from violent images.

But government opponents — El Nacional is one of Venezuela's oldest newspapers and a fierce critic of President Hugo Chavez — say it is simply a political ploy by the president to stifle reports on rising crime before the balloting takes place on Sept. 26.

Violent crime is one of Venezuela's most pressing problems, and Chavez foes are raising concerns about it ahead of the elections: More than 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.

Chavez argues that newspapers including El Nacional are deliberately splashing images and weaving reports of violence throughout their publications to give his government a bad name ahead of the elections. The newspapers are recurring to "profanity, abuse, manipulation, pornography," he said Wednesday.

In El Nacional's print edition Wednesday, the word "CENSORED" marches in red, block letters across two front-page spaces where photos would normally appear.

The caption under the first box reads, "If there were a photo here, you would see a father crying for a son he no longer has."

Under the second box, the caption says "If there were another image here, you would see political leaders demanding ... statistics about something that can't be published."

The court issued two rulings Tuesday: The first prohibited El Nacional from publishing "images, information and publicity of any type that contains blood, guns, alarming messages or physical aggression ... and messages about killings and deaths that could alter the well-being of children and adolescents."

Hours later, the court issued a decision prohibiting all print media across the country from publishing violent images.

The ban came in response to El Nacional's publication of a photo on Friday, Aug. 13, showing dead bodies at a morgue in the capital, Caracas. The image accompanied a news story examining Venezuela's failure to stem widespread violent crime.

Legislative election campaigns begin Aug. 25 and end Sept. 23.