In Venezuela, Gagging the Press is a Revolutionary Priority

“Without a Free Press There is Dictatorship.” Venezuela ranks 143 out of the 180 countries analyzed in Reporters Without Borders’ latest report on press freedom. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reyes Theis, Caracas, 3 May 2018 — The similarities between Cuba and Venezuela are becoming more and more evident, and it is not only about ideological coincidences and the repetition of empty and propagandistic ideas. Their daily realities are increasingly similar and the arbitrary designs of their regimes coincide in treating the press as enemies.

Anyone who visits Caracas, after years away, will find a city very different from the one they knew. Garbage in the streets, potholes, deteriorated buildings and an aging vehicle fleet are evidence of a decomposition that advances like a cancer in the urban landscape.

On the sidewalks one can see long lines of people who rise early to wait in front of supermarkets to get some food that will allow them to survive, people rummaging through the garbage to eat, children wandering alone with dirty clothes and barefoot, and perhaps the faces of some pedestrians, eyes lost and tears flowing. If you go to a hospital, the drama becomes even greater in the absence of supplies. continue reading

It is difficult to find, on the first page of the main newspapers of national or regional circulation, the economic and social crisis that Venezuela is experiencing. The largest in the country, Últimas Noticias and El Universal, were sold several years ago in non-transparent transactions and have fallen into the hands of consortiums whose owners are presumed to be friends of the Government. They have completely changed their editorial positions and in their pages they basically print the official speeches, while the positions of the dissidence are silenced or manipulated and the publicity is governmental. The most prestigious journalists have been dismissed or have resigned before the clearly demonstrated lack of ethics.

The restrictions of the state monopoly on the sale of newsprint, added to the impossibility of accessing foreign currency to import it, are why a good part of the printed media have stopped circulating or had to limit themselves to publishing online.

Last April the newspaper El Tiempo of Puerto La Cruz, 60 years after its founding, had to become a weekly, a step prior to the final closure of the printed version, also tried by other newspapers in an attempt to stretch the available paper to the maximum, like Tal Cual, which now has only its online version.

The circulation of at least 42 newspapers has been affected since 2013 according to the Press and Society Institute (IPYS). Of these, 19 cancelled their printed editions permanently, while the other 23 newspapers temporarily paused their publication. In addition, more than 50 newspapers have had to reduce their print-runs, circulation, and staffing to address the shortages, not only of newsprint but other equipment and supplies, that are necessary for to print and sell papers.

Some of the printed newspapers forced to suspend their publication were La Región (Sucre), El Impulso (Lara) Diario Los Andes ( Mérida), Ciudad Maturín (Monagas), and El Mío (Anzoátegui).

In its latest report, IPYS noted that “the aggressions, threats, abuse of state power, misinformation, opacity and various forms of censorship, marked 2017 as the year of the greatest obstacles to the exercise of journalism in Venezuela.”  The monitoring and alert system of this organization detected at least 518 cases that amounted to 1087 violations of freedom of expression.

The cases included 507 aggressions and attacks against journalists and the media, 283 limitations on access to public information, 250 cases of abusive use of state power in communications, 22 administrative legal actions, 10 cases of internal censorship, eight cases of prior censorship, six aggressions with the use of norms that hinder freedom of expression and a case of impunity.

Carlos Correa, director of the NGO Espacio Público, explains that within the framework of the vision of the Chavista governments, various strategies were developed to strike journalists and media outlets. “The first strategy was the public  disparagement, the attacks with impunity by people who did not identify themselves as officials. But since 2014, in the context of the protests, the officials are the ones who beat the journalists.”

Last year the assaults were also carried out on media workers who covered the intense protests that shook the country. But the image of a journalist being dragged by her hair by 16 members of the National Guard at the headquarters of the Supreme Court of Justice went viral and the brutality of the repressive forces was considered shocking.

The protagonist of the story was the Univisión correspondent in Venezuela, Elyangélica González, who after that incident left the country and continues working for the network, now in the United States.

“I was narrating an action by the colectivos (pro-government paramilitary groups) against students who were demonstrating before the Superior Court of Justice while the Guardia did absolutely nothing, I was attacked by more than 16 officials, although the worst came later: persecutions and threats that made me leave the country, because my family and my safety were at risk, there was an intention to silence a reality,” she explains by telephone.

Restrictions on the exercise of journalism do not occur only on the street. The management of the media and the editorial boards are other arenas to fight a battle different in form, but implicitly carrying the same objective: to censor the stories that can embarrass the company, for fear of the measures that the regime could take.

“In Venevisión, they never told me something would not be aired,” González says. “I would just finish my work, og away and they would tell me in an editorial meeting that a news item should not come out, or they cut it or used only the sound (an interview of a few seconds), so that no one could say it wasn’t aired. But I was not involved, if they did not agree with my perspective on the reporting, they would say to me, ’This can not be done like this.’ Then it would be silenced. A presenter gave the information, without analysis, without depth and just the sound.”

González points out that on the radio station where she worked in Venezuela, she was reminded that she should be impartial. “But they forbade us to talk about some issues and that is not impartiality, it is censorship,” she adds.

The restrictions on access to information sources are also a reality that Venezuelan journalists must face. There is an express prohibition for any public official to speak to private media and entities such as the Central Bank of Venezuela or the Ministry of Health conceal statistics that should be public knowledge.

One of the few information sources of the public power open to journalists is the National Assembly, with an opposition majority, but the intention of the absolute silencing of information has moved the National Guard to even prevent access fo r the media to the Federal Legislative Palace, the seat of the Venezuelan Parliament.

Carlos Correa also highlights the package of laws passed to prevent the free expression of ideas, such as the reform of the Criminal Code, the Law of Social Responsibility in Radio and Television and recently the Law against Hate, approved by the self-proclaimed National Constituent Assembly.

“Officials who express their critical opinions have been punished very hard, and we have documented more than 80 arrests through application of the Hate Law as a result of officials making statements,” said the director of Espacio Público.

According to the study by the Press and Society Institute, the National Telecommunications Commission, the governing body on the subject, shut down 54 radio stations last year. “These have been the most abusive and disproportionate measures that Conatel has exercised in the last 12 years, according to the analysis conducted by IPYS Venezuela,” he says.

The report details that radio stations such as 92.9 Tu FM and Mágica 91.1 FM were recognized among the most recently affected media. “On August 25, 2017, the state agency did not renew the concession and, immediately after, their signals were replaced by other stations called Radio Corazón Llanero and Radio Vinotinto FM, respectively, and shortly after that, on September 5, Conatel shut down the station 88.1 FM Fe y Alegría, in the city of Maracaibo, and hours later it revoked the order without any explanations.”

According to the IPYS Venezuela registry, in 2017 the number of national radio stations censored was 49.

Of the radio station, 24 left the air during the citizen demonstrations that began on April 1, “in a context in which citizen liberties were usurped in Venezuela under a decree of a state of emergency,” IPYS said.

Some television channels did not escape from these actions. On July 16, the television channel of the Universidad de los Andes in Mérida, ULA TV, was also closed by Conatel, under the excuse of missing documents. In Santa Cruz de Mora and Tovar, in the state of Merida, the entity also closed the local television stations ZeaTv and Televisora Cultural de Tovar.

On August 24, Conatel also removed Colombian television channels Caracol TV and RCN from the programming grid, and between 2014 and 2017, six foreign television stations have left the cable programming grid by express order of the state agency. The other television channels that were suspended were CNN En Español (US), El Tiempo Televisión (Colombia), Todo Noticias (Argentina) and Antena 3 (Spain), says the report.

Faced with the onslaught against conventional media such as radio, television and the written press, journalistic research and information have taken refuge in real time on the Internet. But the censoring arm of the regime has arrived there, too, although with more difficulty, mostly because of the technical complications.

Venezuela is among the last places of the continent in terms of internet speed, but to this we must add constant blockades and hacks of independent journalism portals, such as elpitazo.com.

In times of political turmoil the blockades become more evident and IPYS Venezuela confirmed through its National Network of correspondents that in April 2017 users in five cities in the country could not access the coverage of citizen protests offered by the news portals VPI TV, Vivo Play and Capitolio TV. The organization said that these digital television channels were censored by five internet providers, both state and private.

It is no surprise then that Venezuela has recorded the biggest drop in the continent in terms of press freedom, losing six positions to be ranked 143 out of the 180 countries analyzed in Reporters Without Borders’ latest report.

 ____________________

The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.