Arbitrary journalist detentions, physical attacks on reporters by law enforcement and protesters (both pro- and anti-government), and widespread censorship and media blackouts are depriving Venezuelans of crucial information about the nationwide protests against the administration of President Nicolás Maduro that have left several people dead and hundreds injured.
Pressure on and intimidation of Venezuela’s independent media outlets has deepened in recent weeks. The government of President Maduro has employed a number of methods to restrict coverage on issues of national interest. Officials have ordered Internet service providers to block websites carrying information on the exchange rate in the black market, and have stifled news stories on the economic turmoil affecting the country, all in an attempt to muzzle critical voices.
Economic controls have led to newsprint shortages. As a consequence, a few Venezuelan newspapers have been forced to reduce their size and circulation while others have opted to stop circulation. Critics said that this tactic by the government is a way to silence newspapers that are among the few remaining media representing voices that oppose the administration.
Since President Maduro took office in April 2013 to assume Hugo Chávez legacy, a systematic campaign of harassment against dissenting voices in the media has become a trademark of his presidency. Globovisión, the only remaining critical broadcaster left when he became president, is now in the hands of businessmen aligned with the administration and has dramatically toned down its criticism.
Nearly all television stations in the country are either controlled or allied with the government. So the protests have received scant coverage, even though they are spread throughout the nation. One foreign cable news station was taken off the air simply for broadcasting the current events.
The Venezuelan president, omnipresent in state-owned television, has made use of his television addresses to verbally attack the opposition and the media, calling on officials of his administration to investigate Agence France-Press and CNN, among others.
Meanwhile, issues that affect the daily lives of millions of Venezuelans, including the economic crisis, inflation, shortages of basic goods, and rampant violence, are not being covered fully because the press is unable to do its work in this climate of violence and censorship. Venezuelan citizens, including journalists, cannot exercise their fundamental human rights to freedom of expression and access to information. As the debate on issues of public interest is inhibited, the health of the Venezuelan democratic system is being seriously damaged.
Carlos Lauría is the Senior Americas program coordinator at the Committee to Protect Journalists.