Self-censorship is the norm

A shootout downtown Caracas? Why cover that when Miss Venezuela 2014 is just around the corner?

As Quico wrote, many Venezuelans won’t be aware of yesterday’s stand-off between the authorities and members of a pro-government colectivo unless they saw the events unfold online in real time.

No TV station made any attempt to cover it live, and now today’s papers (with few exceptions) will be conditioned by the official description of what happened: an “irregular situation” where the police took down a “band of murderers”. Nothing to see here, folks, move along.

This is the hegemony’s policy of censorship and self-censorship at work, and to see how widespread it has become, there’s the new report from the Venezuelan chapter of the NGO Instituto Prensa y Sociedad.

Aptly titled “The Order is Silence”, the study questioned journalists (mostly from private-owned outlets) on whether they have been pressured to modify or even drop coverage of certain news events. Here are some of the highlights.

  • Most see state institutions a involved in censorship. Notably, the Executive Power (34%)
  • 42% have been pressured to modify coverage of a news piece, while 15% have seen their work blocked in other forms.
  • 29% have self-censored when covering a subject after knowing their outlet wouldn’t allow criticisms of said person.
  • 43% have been instructed on how to treat a subject, while 39% were forced to change the specific wording in their pieces to accomodate this.
  • Many journalists admit they have been pressured to reveal their sources, something that is unconstitutional.
  • 44% have been forced to “rectify” after receiving government threats, even if the report in question was accurate.
  • More and more journalists are choosing to self censor in order to protect themselves, their sources or co-workers.
  • The drastic reduction of information sources (both public and private) have made their work more difficult. At least 79% of those consulted in this study admit they were denied access to public information by state institutions. Sadly, private companies and other civil society groups are now following this alarming trend.
  • Restrictions on the Internet are now commonplace, and even the hacking of e-mail accounts have been reported.

In the meantime, most media outlets want you to forget about all the problems: The baseball season begins tomorrow and the Miss Venezuela 2014 pageant is next week, even if it couldn’t escape the effects of our economic crisis.