By: Vanessa I. Garnica
Journalists remain at risk as protests roil Venezuela
IPI members call on authorities to ensure the safety of media workers
By: Vanessa I. Garnica
VIENNA, April 15, 2014 - Fifty-two tonnes of newsprint has made its way to Venezuela on a journey that began in Cartagena, Colombia on April 1, and ended, 11 days later in the capital of Caracas. The newsprint was sent from an association of Colombian newspapers wanting to lend a hand to publications heavily affected by a paper shortage.
“It’s an impressive gesture of solidarity,” said Miguel Enrique Otero, president of the daily El Nacional, who said his newspaper’s portion of the 33.4 tonnes of newsprint would allow it to print for 15 days.
The other two publications sharing part of the shipment were El Impulso, in the western state of Lara, which received 12.2 tonnes, and El Nuevo País in Caracas, which accepted the remaining 6.4 tonnes of newsprint.
Venezuelan newspapers have been suffering from a shortage of newsprint due to government currency controls limiting the dollars needed to acquire supplies from international providers.
Lack of newsprint in the nation has been a growing issue since August 2013. Government restrictions have forced at least 10 publications to stop printing altogether and another 11 to reduce the size of their editions.
El Universal, one of the oldest publications in the country and recently celebrated its 105th year, announced on April 6 that it would begin decreasing the size of its edition this week.
In addition to tight currency exchange control, there is the question of safety for Venezuelan and international journalists. Over the last two months, Venezuela has been experiencing protests led by university students and opposition groups in various cities, leaving at least 41 deaths and numerous injuries in the process. Members of the news media are among those injured and attacked.
In a resolution adopted by the IPI General Assembly held in Cape Town, South Africa this week, members of the International Press Institute said that the Venezuelan “government must ensure a safe working environment for reporters and editors, who have faced arbitrary arrest and physical attacks by security forces following the outbreak of public demonstrations on Feb. 12, 2014. Additionally, a number of journalists have reported that their equipment was confiscated or that they were forced to delete footage of street unrest.
“IPI members further expressed concern about policies that have led to tight supplies of newsprint purchased from foreign companies, forcing at least 10 newspapers to limit or suspend publication.”
From Feb. 12 to April 10, at least 27 reporters were attacked, harassed and apprehended by government forces, or in some cases, by groups friendly to the government, according to Espacio Público, a local freedom of expression group.
Venezuelan Journalist Carlos Suniaga, correspondent for Globovisión in the state of Bolivar, was attacked by pro-government protesters in early March. Suniaga posted photos of his injuries on his Twitter account and a brief description of the assault. On April 5, Suniaga shared via social media a letter addressed to him, which threatened him and his family if he continued to publish any information critical of the government. The letter, which was left on his vehicle’s windscreen, mentioned that the "revolutionary defence group" was aware of his family’s whereabouts. The reporter cited that he may be the fourth journalist in Venezuela to receive such written threat from this particular group.
During the first week of April, a photographer from the news agency EFE was injured by pellets shots while covering a demonstration, the National Association of Press Workers (SNTP) reported earlier this month.
In March, Cristian Dubó, a Chilean photojournalist covering the protests for Chilean television station Teletrece, reported he was attacked by members of the Bolivarian National Guard (GNB) after recording the arrest of a young protester in Caracas. That same week, Teletrece showed the video of the incident where the photojournalist was threatened and physically attacked.
On April 6, Globovisión producer and journalist Nairobi Pinto was kidnapped from the entrance of the apartment building where she lives in Caracas. After more than 10 days being held captive by unknown abductors, Pinto was released on April 14.
Although it has not been proven that Pinto’s kidnapping was linked to her work as a reporter, the incident illustrates the risks that members of the press are exposed to on a daily basis in Venezuela.
Vanessa I. Garnica is IPI’s press freedom adviser for Latin America and the Caribbean. For more information, contact her at +43 1512 9011 or by e-mail.