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Venezuelan newspaper owner defends photo that spurred investigation

By the CNN Wire Staff
  • Miguel Otero says his newspaper was right to publish graphic photo
  • Editor says photo was intended to get people to react to insecurity in Venezuela
  • Hugo Chavez government responds by launching investigation against paper

(CNN) -- The editor and owner of a Venezuela newspaper under investigation by the government of President Hugo Chavez defended the editorial decision to publish a graphic photo that spurred the inquiry.

Miguel Otero told CNN en Espaņol that the idea behind publishing a large photo of the inside of a morgue was to stir debate about insecurity in the country.

The color photograph, which ran on the front page of El Nacional last week, showed about a dozen bodies, mostly naked, sprawled on tables at a morgue in Caracas. It ran alongside a story about violence.

The government's response was to look into whether the newspaper violated a law concerning the protection of children.

"The editorial reasoning behind the photo was to create a shock so that people could in some way react to a situation that the government has done absolutely nothing about," Otero said.

He called the government's response "disproportionate."

Otero said that photos like the one published in El Nacional are published regularly in other media, just not as prominently as his newspaper did.

"The state of personal security in Venezuela is an absolute chaos, and the numbers rise, rise and rise to the point they are out of control," he said. "People are assaulted everywhere, and the police [don't] do anything."

The government has said the morgue is in much better condition than what the photo shows, and that the photo was taken years ago.

Otero said the newspaper made it clear the photo was taken in December 2009.

The editor said that despite the government investigation, he would run similar photos again, as other media routinely do.

Chavez, who says violent crime in Venezuela is falling, has accused the opposition of trying to exaggerate the issue. Security concerns are of particular interest right now, ahead of parliamentary elections there in September.

His government, which controls several news outlets in Venezuela, has drawn criticism from global groups that advocate for a free press and from the U.S. government. They have accused Chavez of seeking to limit free speech.