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Venezuela’s Independent Media Decimates by Country’s Years-Long Crisis

"It was a course we couldn't get away from," Jorge Makriniotis, manager at the 75-year-old El Nacional

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Venezuelas, Media, Crisis
FILE - The General Manager of Venezuelan newspaper El Nacional Jorge Makriniotis speaks during an interview with the AFP, at its printing press in Caracas, June 14, 2019. VOA

Starved of advertising revenue and battling a stranglehold on the newspaper industry by the government, Venezuela’s independent media have been decimated by the country’s years-long crisis — with many migrating online to survive.

“It was a course we couldn’t get away from,” Jorge Makriniotis, manager at the 75-year-old El Nacional, told AFP.

The newspaper ran its last physical edition — which had already dropped from 72 to just 16 pages — on December 13 last year.

Like many other former print media, it is only available on the internet now.

Venezuelas, Media, Crisis
FILE – A woman buys printed newspapers at a kiosk in Caracas, Venezuela, July 3, 2019. VOA

In 2013, Venezuela’s socialist government created a state-run company to control the import and distribution of paper.

Carlos Correa, director of the Espacio Publico non-governmental organization, said the move created “discriminatory dynamics” that saw pro-regime media favored — while others were starved of printing paper, and advertising revenue.

Since then, 58 daily newspapers have ceased circulation, Correa says.

“There’s never been an official response” to the claims from independent media, said Gisela Carmona, the director of El Impulso — one of the papers that has migrated online, requiring an investment of more than a million dollars.

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After 100 years in print, the newspaper disappeared from the streets in February 2018, having received no paper for 12 months.

Beyond controlling paper supply, critics accuse the Venezuelan government of oppressing dissenting media voices across the board.

The national union of press workers has denounced a “systematic policy” of asphyxiation as dozens of independent radio and television stations also closed.

“Over the past years, the Government has attempted to impose a communicational hegemony by enforcing its own version of events and creating an environment that curtails independent media,” said U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet in a report on Venezuela earlier this month.

Venezuelas, Media, Crisis
Starved of advertising revenue and battling a stranglehold on the newspaper industry by the government, Venezuela’s independent media have been decimated. Pixabay

One example from 2018 saw El Nacional lose a case brought by Diosdado Cabello, widely regarded as the most powerful regime figure after President Nicolas Maduro, for having published drug-trafficking allegations made against him in the Spanish press.

The economic crisis had a major impact on the media too, as on all businesses.

Five years of recession and rampant hyperinflation — which the International Monetary Fund expects to reach a staggering 10 million per cent this year — have decimated advertising revenues.

Carminda Marquez opened a kiosk in Caracas 18 years, selling dozens of newspapers and other publications.

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“Now I sell three or four,” said the 80-year-old.

Regional newspaper Panorama, which served Venezuela’s second city Maracaibo, struggled on until May 14 when “a perfect storm” of massive power cuts finally sounded it’s physical death knell, its editorial director Maria Ines Delgado told AFP.

Panorama never had to lay off any journalists as one by one they resigned and left for foreign shores.

“Every time we replaced one, another left,” Delgado said from a near-empty editorial room.

Like El Impulso, Panorama is now fed by banner advertising.

The move online has not solved independent media’s myriad problems, though, least of all the ability to reach readers.

Between frequent power outages, patchy internet and the second slowest connectivity in Latin America — after landlocked Paraguay — readers have trouble loading pages, especially on smartphones.

“We know nothing any more,” complained Belkis Nava, who used to read Panorama.

Despite the difficulties, some journalists have launched new media directly on the internet, such as El Pitazo.

Specializing in investigative journalism — it won the prestigious Ortega y Gasset prize awarded by Spanish newspaper El Pais this year — El Pitazo supported itself through a 2017 crowdfunding campaign, director Cesar Batiz told AFP.

However, like other news websites, El Pitazo has come under cyberattack — four times over two years.

Before the first attack in 2017, El Pitazo had 110,000 visits a day. Traffic has since dropped by more than half, and 65 percent of that comes from abroad.

“People aren’t receiving information,” said Melanio Escobar, the director of the Redes Ayuda (Network Help) NGO. (VOA)

Next Story

People Feel Exposed to Fake News on Social Media, Says Study

The researchers said that when disinformation campaigns challenge access to reliable information, citizens are left to make “uninformed choices”

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Multiple apps are displayed on an iPhone in New York. VOA

A new study has revealed that the more people feel they are exposed to fake news on social media on a regular basis, the more they are likely to distrust the media in general.

The study’s findings, published in the African Journalism Studies journal, revealed that places such as sub-Saharan Africa, where disinformation campaigns have been used recently to influence electoral campaigns, perceive that exposure to disinformation is high and trust in national media and social media is low.

For the study, the researchers included nearly 1,900 people in Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa who are highly educated, live in urban, middle class areas and have access to social media.

As many as 90 per cent of Kenyans, 93 per cent of Nigerians and 76 per cent of South Africans believe that they are exposed to false news about politics on a fairly regular basis, the study found.

In a 2016 Pew Research Center study which sampled just over 1,000 Americans, 71 per cent of respondents said they often or sometimes saw fake political news.

Conference, Privacy, Social Media
FILE – Silhouettes of mobile users are seen next to logos of social media apps Signal, Whatsapp and Telegram projected on a screen in this picture illustration. VOA

“We found that people in sub-Saharan Africa particularly distrust information on social media, such as Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp because that’s where they find ‘fake news’ most often,” said Dani Madrid-Morales, Assistant Professor at the University of Cape Town, South Africa.

“Governments are already using this as an excuse to put restrictions on media by saying that too much freedom of speech on these American platforms poses a ‘danger’ to national security,” he added.

When it comes to sharing a political story that study participants knew at the time was made up, 29 per cent of Kenyans, 18 per cent of Nigerians and 25 per cent of South Africans answered “yes.”

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These numbers are higher than the US where 14 per cent of participants answered “yes” in the Pew study.

The researchers said that when disinformation campaigns challenge access to reliable information, citizens are left to make “uninformed choices”. (IANS)