Stealth Censorship Chronicles

Not even the cartoons are safe in the new El Universal.

Since its acquisition by a mysterious, quite possibly bogus Spanish investment firm, Caracas newspaper El Universal has shown that it will follow the path of Ultimas Noticias and Globovision, media outlets in  the hands of the private part of the media hegemony (HegemonCorp.).

The National Press Workers’ Union (SNTP) released a list of more than 30 columnists that were let go by El Universal, because of what the paper has called a “restructuring of the opinion pages”.

In a recent editorial, El Universal responded to these allegations by justifying the decision in the application of its internal ethics code. They claim that those who want to write for the paper must accept “…a line of equilibrium, fairness and respect”, in order to offer “content of variable themes and flexible adaptation of the realities to inform”.

This last bit is quite telling, given that the editorial’s overall tone is pretty defensive and the many calls for ethics and respect are presented in a threatening manner. Not a good sign.

One of the laid-off columnists (and CC friend) Daniel Lansberg-Rodriguez has explained his case and the sad state of Venezuelan media in an Op-Ed for the New York Times. In it, he describes the M.O. of how HegemonCorp. acts:

First, the media outlets are regulated so as to become economically uncompetitive: a newspaper, for example, might be denied a favorable exchange rate for importing printing paper; a broadcaster might regularly be hit with fines on spurious charges of libel or indecency.

Second, once the business starts failing, a dummy corporation, sometimes owned anonymously, mysteriously appears and offers to buy it out, even generously.

Third, despite initially assuring that the editorial line will remain unchanged, the new management soon begins to shed staff, likewise shifting coverage until its message becomes all but indistinguishable from the Panglossian views of the ruling party.”

The changes in the editorial line also included EU’s resident cartoonist Rayma Suprani, who claimed that one of her works was dropped from publication. She denied the paper’s version that this was done with her full approval. Rayma has assured the public that she won’t resign, and her response to the whole change in the paper was at least left intact.

If the new El Universal wants to prove that it’s all for ethics and respect, they should show it not by threats but by gestures, like telling us who the real owners of the paper are. After all, what’s more ethical that the truth?