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Venezuelan media say hostility makes coverage harder


President Nicolas Maduro says a “new Venezuela” is being born and he wants journalists to report this “truth.” However, editors and journalists working in the country say those whose articles criticize his administration may find themselves accused of promoting a “hate campaign” or be the target of “selective repression.”

Throughout his tenure, Maduro has relied on journalists for critical coverage, from AFP to VOA’s Spanish-language service.

On Monday, Maduro called Argentina’s InfoBae site “idiots” and “imbecile media” after a report on the president’s visit to China called him a dictator. He also accused a Miami-based broadcaster of taking advantage of opposition leaders.

Free speech organizations said Maduro’s administration was using “selective repression” against dissidents and journalists who contradict the official narrative.

Media organizations tracking harassment and smear campaigns against Venezuelan journalists say such rhetoric from the country’s leaders makes it more difficult to carry out independent journalism.

“This increases the risk of aggression, forced detention and censorship by the authorities. The journalist, of course, is no longer received in public institutions, nor invited to press conferences of the ruling party, said Cesar Batiz, co-founder and director of the media The Pitazo.

“This didn’t just happen during the Maduro era,” Batiz said. “It was also very common, and it was more dangerous during the era of (former President Hugo) Chavez.”

Espacio Publico, a Venezuelan NGO, said in its annual report that 2022 had been “a particularly difficult year” for the media.

“They not only had to overcome the multidimensional crisis (in Venezuela), but they also faced restrictive policies aimed at reducing the media ecosystem,” Espacio Publico said in its report.

Already in 2023, 261 violations related to censorship and acts of intimidation have been documented.

Another Venezuelan media association, the Press and Society Institute or IPYS, last year documented 373 attacks on freedom of information in the country and more than 60 cases of criminalization or defamation of media work.

The IPYS estimated that radio stations were worst affected, with the closure of more than 100 of them ordered by the broadcasting committee known as Conatel.

The Communications Ministry did not respond to VOA’s request for comment.

Carlos Alaimo, president and editor-in-chief of Final version, a newspaper in the state of Zulia, told VOA that journalism in Venezuela is “incomplete” due to fear of “excessive criminal prosecutions if the wrong fibers of the government are touched” by the local press.

“All critical journalism will always be a target for the government, we must work in constant alert,” Alaimo said, adding that the press is “in chains.”

His media outlet had to stop its daily print run due to a lack of paper for the newspaper. Alaimo says he believes Version Final lost access to supplies because of its independent reporting.

“We have lost advertisers who, historically, bet on the written press. Even today, our sponsors are few because of the fear that the authoritarian model (in Venezuela) generates among businessmen. All this has hit – and continues to hit – our financial health very hard,” Alaimo said.

Final version It once had 120 workers and provided income to more than 600 people. That structure “was clearly affected” when the print version was discontinued, he said.

The government calls the press “the enemy”

Other journalists say the pressure has made it harder for people to speak on the record.

Víctor Amaya, editor-in-chief of TalCuala Caracas-based news site that had a print version until 2017, explains how the government promoted the idea that the press is an “enemy.”

Today, access to official sources is “compromised” and many people on the street are reluctant to speak with them. TalCualthe journalists.

“People feel vulnerable sharing their thoughts” with the press, Amaya told VOA.

The number of their advertisers has decreased “little by little” in recent years, especially as they have completely migrated to their digital edition.

In their print and digital versions, clients often ask them to publish their ads in sections about sports, culture or international news, what journalists sometimes call “soft news,” Amaya explained.

According to Amaya, the financial capacity of Venezuelan media to fulfill their mission is “limited” given that there are fewer advertisers than in previous years.