Venezuelan Government Censorship Causes Journalists to Turn to the Internet

World news on a newspaper covered globe The Venezuelan government’s hold on the country’s media is no surprise to many people in and outside of the country. Recently, this control made headlines around the world when one of the nation’s oldest newspapers, El Impulso, announced that they would be stopping circulation due to a lack of advertising, inflation, and a shortage of printing supplies caused by Venezuela’s currency controls. While at least nine newspapers and as many as 37 have been similarly affected by the currency controls, the loss of El Impulso seemed extremely serious, as the daily paper had reported on the Western city of Barquisimeto for 110 years. Fortunately, last minute negotiations with the authorities netted the newspaper an emergency delivery of newsprint, allowing them to continue to publish past their planned final issue, which had originally been set for September 15. Some may have seen the decision to provide the paper with printing supplies as a reaction to the international attention El Impulso received. But as the newspaper quickly began further negotiations to obtain long-term supplies of newsprint, it seemed possible that the Venezuelan government had succeeded in silencing yet another independent voice in the media after all. Fortunately, in spite of these censorious efforts, numerous journalists critical of the government have turned to a new medium: the Internet. Thanks to the creation of several small online publications, many Venezuelans are steadily changing how they share and receive information, particularly those who disapprove of the current regime. Concerns over press freedom in Venezuela have simmered for years, as government opposition has gradually been removed from articles and the airwaves. Not only have prominent newspapers been crippled by a nationwide newsprint shortage, but several TV stations have also been closed down on legal grounds. Additionally, media companies who have survived have typically changed ownership in recent years and abandoned critical reporting in the process. For this reason, many Venezuelans no longer trust TV stations and other traditional forms of media as reliable news sources. To fill this void and stay informed, many Venezuelans now use social media sites and online media outlets, particularly Twitter. This might not seem like a revolutionary concept, as online news sources and (especially) social media usage are fairly commonplace throughout the world; in fact, as many as 91% of American adults use social media regularly. However, studies show that Venezuelan newspapers have some of the highest numbers of Twitter followers in Latin America, with over 7 million users following three of the country’s top newspapers. Journalists say that this success is due to the user’s ability to select and share news they feel is important, allowing them to take advantage of any news that avoids government censorship. However, online news sites are also becoming popular as journalists critical of the government find themselves effectively forced out of the news industry. LaPatilla.com, for example, was formed by Alberto Ravell, a journalist and former CEO of the TV news channel Globovision, after the channel was sold in 2013, abandoning its critical editorial position in the process. The online-only news site is now one of the biggest and most popular news sources in the country. Similarly, Runrun.es was founded by Nelso Bocaranda, a reporter who left mainstream journalism after receiving a number of threats in response to his work. Bocaranda now has nearly 2 million followers on Twitter, placing him above all but six of the largest media companies in Latin America, and hires journalists who have been similarly forced out of the industry. Despite the growing influence of these news sites, however, journalists have pointed out that Venezuelan politics remain highly polarized. As a result, new online media sources have been unable to build a bridge between pro-government supporters and opposition members: those behind the government still rely mostly on print newspapers and TV stations, while critical audiences turn to the internet. Nonetheless, as respected journalists continue to leave the industry for sites like Runrun.es, and the Venezuelan government is roundly condemned by a number of international organizations for its apparent censorship, it seems possible that more Venezuelans will soon be logging on.

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