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Venezuelan Media Say Hostility Makes Coverage Harder

FILE - Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro waves as he attends the South American Summit at Itamaraty Palace in Brasilia, Brazil, May 30, 2023.
FILE - Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro waves as he attends the South American Summit at Itamaraty Palace in Brasilia, Brazil, May 30, 2023.

President Nicolas Maduro says a "new Venezuela" is rising and he wants journalists to report this "truth." However, editors and journalists working in the country say those whose reports are critical of his administration can find themselves accused of promoting a "hate campaign" or the target of "selective repression."

Throughout his tenure, Maduro has called out journalists for critical coverage, from the AFP to VOA's Spanish Language service.

On Monday, Maduro described the Argentine site InfoBae as "idiots" and "imbecile media" after a report on the president's visit to China referred to him as a dictator. He also accused a Miami-based broadcaster of profiting from opposition leaders.

Free speech organizations have said that Maduro's administration is using "selective repression" against dissidents and journalists who contradict the official narrative.

Media organizations tracking harassment and smear campaigns directed at Venezuela's journalists say such rhetoric from the country's leaders makes it harder to do independent journalism.

"It increases the risk of aggression, of forced detention and censorship by the authorities. The journalist, of course, is no longer received in public institutions, or not invited to press conferences for the ruling party, said Cesar Batiz, co-founder and director of the media outlet El Pitazo.

"This happened not only in the time of Maduro," Batiz said. "It was also very frequent, and it was more dangerous in the time of [former president Hugo] Chávez."

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

"They not only had to overcome the multidimensional crisis [in Venezuela], but also came face-to-face with restrictive policies that seek to reduce the media ecosystem," Espacio Publico said in its report.

Already in 2023 it has documented 261 violations related to censorship and acts of intimidation.

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

The IPYS found radio stations most affected, with more than 100 ordered to be closed by the broadcasting committee known as Conatel.

The Ministry of Communication did not respond to VOA's request for comment.

'Shackled' press

Carlos Alaimo, president and chief editor of Version Final, a newspaper from Zulia state, told VOA that journalism in Venezuela is "incomplete" because of fear of an "excessive criminal legal action if the wrong government fibers are touched" by the local press.

"Any critical journalism will always be a target for the government, you have to work on constant alert," said Alaimo, adding that the press is "shackled."

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

"We lost advertisers who historically bet on the print medium. Even today, our sponsors are few due to the fear that the authoritarian model [in Venezuela] generates in businessmen. All of this hit — and continues to hit — our financial health very hard," Alaimo said.

Version Final used to have 120 workers and provided incomes for more than 600 people. That structure "was clearly affected" when the print version stopped, he said.

Government calls press an 'enemy'

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

Víctor Amaya, an editor of TalCual, a news website based in Caracas that had a printed version until 2017, talks about how the government has promoted the notion that the press is an "enemy."

Now, the access to official sources is "compromised" and many people on the streets are reluctant to speak with TalCual's journalists.

"People feel vulnerable by sharing their thoughts" to the press, Amaya told VOA.

The number of their advertisers has been reducing "little by little" in recent years, especially since they migrated completely to their digital edition.

In both their printed and digital versions, clients often ask them to publish their advertisements in sections about sports, culture, or international news, what journalists occasionally call "soft news," Amaya said.

According to Amaya, the financial ability of Venezuelan outlets to fulfill their mission is "limited" when there are fewer advertisers than in previous years.