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2nd Essay

Vanessa Bastardo

Problems faced by the media in Venezuela


By Vanessa Bastardo

The freedom of the press in Venezuela. There are so many problems surrounding news
coverage in the Caribbean country that it is difficult to know where to begin naming them.
These range from censorship imposed by the Government to misinformation and rumours
spread by the people. As with any other dictatorship, the truth seems to be their sworn
enemy. According to the Colombian newspaper, El Tiempo, When a society sees its
democracy derail, the first victims are the media, because freedom of expression may be the
symbol of their liberties. Three problems that the Venezuelan media has to face in order to
carry out their activities normally will be listed below, followed by proposed solutions to each
problem, which should be within the realm of possibility, if not exactly unchallenging.

The first problem is the politicization of the media and the aggressions against journalists.
Since late President Hugo Chvez closed down RCTV, one of the most important television
stations of the country, in 2007, the systematic cease of operations that numerous media
companies have experienced has had a profound impact on the distribution of the news in
the nation. More and more channels are shut down after having covered anti-Government
protests or because a single member of their staff made an awkward comment about some
powerful chavista. This means that, in reality, a huge number of people only listen to what
the Regime wants them to hear. And it is terrible, because misinformation in such a situation
can lead people to do appalling things, like physically attacking those with a different political
opinion. Not only is the fact that they control the media worrying, it also contemplates that in
order to fully exercise their domination, the governmental forces reach the point of physically
hurting some reporters. Stories about international (and local) reporters who have been
stopped at the airport of Maiqueta or at their place of assignment and then thoroughly
searched, robbed, deported, or imprisoned is common news in the country. According to the
annual Freedom of the Press ranking presented by Reporter Without Borders, Venezuela is
number 134 in a list of 180 countries organised from those who most respect the Right of
Speech to the most authoritarian ones and there are even people who have been
imprisoned (without trial since 2014), just for tweeting anti-Government messages or their
opinion on what happens in the nation.

The second problem would be the difficulty to find serious news outlets. This is also a
consequence of the first problem. Due to the large number of companies that have been
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Vanessa Bastardo

closed down or that have discontinued their printed editions due to lack of newspaper, new
companies are popping out all over the Internet. Marianela Balbi, executive director of the
Institute of Press and Society, declared that In Venezuela, the migration of news to a digital
platform was out of need for survival (as opposed to other countries where it could be said it
was out of a desire to reach a larger audience and adapt to changing times). However, in
some cases these platforms do not follow ethical or even stylistic regulations, which leads to
sensationalism and causes them to be taken less seriously even if they are, in fact, telling
the truth. For example, there is a website called DolarToday which is the only one that
publishes the value of currency in the black market and the real indicators of inflation for the
nation. It has a lot of traffic and a news section, but all their articles begin with statements
such as: UNFORGIVABLE! Velsquez: Opposition governors shouldnt kneel before a
Cuban, pirate copy of the National Assembly (Parliament), (yes, this seems quite
contradictory). They claim COUP DTAT! and STATE OF EMERGENCY! when
situations are much less dire, thus confounding and giving false hopes to their readership,
who proceed to share this fake, or at least misleading, news on social media and spread
them among the rest of the population.

Now, taking into account that mass media only report what the Government wants them to,
the third problem is the fact that there is still a large part of the population who does not have
access to the Internet. Be it because they cannot afford it or because of the slow Internet
connection (which barely reaches 2 Mbps), some people cannot rely on anything else than
word-of-mouth or the adapted version of events. This is problematic because it can
contribute to the growing climate of misinformation and intolerance in Venezuela.

According to the United Nations: Freedom of information is an integral part of the


fundamental right of freedom of expression. This means that what the Regime does is not
only against the Venezuelan Constitution, but also the Universal Declaration of Human
Rights, which would enable the Venezuelan people to add Censorship of Speech to the long
list of reasons which they have to protest against the Government for. The people should
also take a stand against the regular mistreatment and attacks against both foreign and local
journalists, who are only doing their job when they are assaulted by the militia or the military.
It might seem as if protesting in Venezuela does not serve any purpose, the powers that be
will do as they please regardless of the protests, and while that might be true, it is not a
reason not to demand Human Rights are respected. This would only make the people as
guilty as the oppressors. Perhaps this solution would not work immediately, but in the long
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run it could accomplish something. The protests after RCTV was closed down 10 years ago
bought Globovisin, another station, six more years on-air.

In order to solve the second problem, both the public and the press would have to act
against the spread of inaccurate or false information and sensationalist headlines and style.
There is no need for tabloids in Venezuela, though there is pressing need for serious
newspapers that inform the citizens and stand against the Regimes ignorance campaign.
Delivering high-quality, well-researched and thoughtful news articles should be given priority
over attracting a high readership. What is the point of reaching a lot of people if those people
will not know if what they are reading is true? If the citizenry stop reading and sharing this
kind of articles, news sites will be obligated to change their editorial line.

As for the third problem, some measures have already been suggested and implemented by
reporters and media companies hoping to counteract disinformation. This issue could be
solved very easily if everyone would work together on it. In 2013, when Corporacin Maneiro
(the sole newspaper distributor) decided that they would only sell the paper to
pro-Government news companies, different news publishers in Latin America sent tons of
paper to their Venezuelan counterparts. If more people contributed to the printed press,
news could reach every corner of the country. There are also initiatives that should be
supported before they die out or are eliminated by the Regime. The News site El Pitazo
shares news through SMS to everyone in Venezuela who has registered in their website,
and in Germany most news outlets have a team that shares the news through Whatsapp. It
is free of charge and as easy as adding their number and texting Start. One other activity is
bus newscasting, a couple of months ago, in Caracas, a journalist devised El Bus TV, where
newscasters hop on and off buses and read quality news to the people in them. This also
has a Whatsapp alternative, the Venezuelan Public Information Service, considering that
most news (specially in times of incertitude, like during protests) are spread through the
platform. The idea is that all news will be verified by actual reporters, to prevent
misinformation. People who do not want to, cannot be made to listen to the news, but at
least there would be possibilities for those who do want to.

In conclusion, it could be said that the hard place the Venezuelan press is in right now could
be pinned down to three problems, and there are options available that could help to solve
them. Venezuela faces a situation in which every little step that can be taken against the
Regime has to be taken. There is no reason why these proposals should not contribute to a
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Vanessa Bastardo

more open and free nation. According to the Christian Science Monitor, the process at Bus
TV, for example, is incredibly simple: A producer steps onto the bus and asks the driver for
permission to present the news. Two journalists hold the makeshift TV, while the host reads
the four-minute news bulletin covering current events [...] Each day the newscast is different,
and although government sources are rarely made available for interviews, the reporters
work to incorporate public statements from officials in order to make the newscast as
balanced and professional as possible. The Bus TV team is a group of young newscasters
and a few collaborators who have decided to do something about the manipulation of the
press. If they can do it, why not the rest of the country?

Bibliography:

Ospina-Valencia, J. (April 20, 2017). Venezuela: la mala costumbre de censurar a la


prensa. Deutsche Welle Latinoamrica. Retrieved from:
http://www.dw.com/es/venezuela-la-mala-costumbre-de-censurar-a-la-prensa/a-3852
5861
(October 20, 2017). IMPERDONABLE! Velsquez: Gobernadores opositores no
deben arrodillarse ante una AN cubana pirata. Dolartoday. Retrieved from:
https://dolartoday.com/imperdonable-velasquez-gobernadores-opositores-deben-arro
dillarse-ante-una-cubana-pirata/
Hernndez, A. (June 13, 2016). Existe la libertad de prensa en Venezuela?. El
Confidencial. Retrieved from:
https://www.elconfidencial.com/mundo/2016-06-13/existe-libertad-de-prensa-en-vene
zuela_1213940/
Freedom of Information. (n.d.). United Nations and the Rule of the Law.
https://www.un.org/ruleoflaw/thematic-areas/governance/freedom-of-information/
Eulich, W. (July 7, 2017). Watching freedom of the press erode; Venezuelan
journalists get innovative. The Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved from:
https://www.csmonitor.com/World/Americas/2017/0707/Watching-freedom-of-the-pre
ss-erode-Venezuela-s-journalists-get-innovative