Notitarde: Censorship in the 21st Century

Notitarde’s new owner, José Rodríguez Álvarez

After days of rumours, it was finally confirmed that Notitarde, one of Valencia’s main newspapers (the other one being El Carabobeño) was sold by its largest shareholder Ricardo Degwitz to Spanish businessman José Rodríguez Álvarez, the owner of the Hesperia WTC Hotel, one of the biggest in the city.

Degwitz made the announcement to the paper’s staff on Wednesday, in which he also informed that its editor Lauretzi Odriozola Echegaray will leave his post after 25 years. The new owner introduced himself and promised to make Notitarde “…the country’s biggest newspaper.”

But Mr. Rodríguez Álvarez made a unusual admission as well: he has spoken previously with the central government regarding the never-ending issue of access to newsprint and said the following:

Maybe you’re asking yourselves how we will get the newsprint if it has become so difficult to get in recent years. Well, the answer is clear, I sat down with the government and asked them if I will get newsprint in the case I bought Notitarde and they said yes. They only asked for plurality, and plurality doesn’t mean partiality.”

It’s too early to tell if Notitarde will become Valencia’s branch of HegemonCorp., but after hearing the same promises with El Universal and seeing the opposite results months later, it’s hard not to be skeptical. And don’t take it from me, just take a look to what El Universal’s workers are currently saying about the paper’s latest definition of “plurality”.

This piece of news comes days after fellow CC blogger Carlos Rangel sent me this recent article of Moises Naim (co-written with Philip Bennett) which is aptly titled “21st Century Censorship”. It presents several cases of what they call “new censorship” and describes the Venezuela case in detail, including the mysterious rise of HegemonCorp.:

Recently, as a political and economic crisis has deepened, the state and its allies appear to have unveiled a new weapon: quieting critical reporting through the shadowy purchase of some of the private media companies most vexing to the government.

At first, the deals looked similar to the changing of the guard that is happening at old-line media institutions around the world. They have involved Venezuela’s best-selling but financially troubled newspaper, Ultimas Noticias, and its oldest daily, El Universal. But with time the sales seem less the result of market disruption, and more like political meddling using government-friendly buyers, dark money, and a web of foreign companies, some of them created overnight in order to conceal the identities of the new owners.

The legal strategies used in the acquisitions make them hard to trace and evaluate. No evidence of a direct connection to government funds has surfaced. But the highly irregular structure of the deals, followed by changes in the editorial lines of the publications, have convinced journalists that their papers have lost their independence.”

Bennett and Naim also treat the newsprint conundrum that those papers neither involved with the State Media System (SIBCI) or HegemonCorp. are facing to obtain the basic element to keep publishing. CPJ’s John Otis went to Ciudad Guayana and spent some time at Correo del Caroni, which has been forced to cut publishing from seven to five days and reduce its edition to just eight pages. But Correo’s editor Oscar Murillo insists they will go forward.

Sadly, Venezuela has become a world reference on censorship and control of free speech, but that doesn’t mean they will use sophisticated methods all the time. Sometimes, they will stick to traditional public threats against journalists, like the recent case of freelance journalist (and Al-Jazzera correspondent) Mónica Villamizar, who was forced to leave the country after Diosdado Cabello accused her of being a “CIA agent” in his weekly TV show.

Villamizar strongly denied Cabello’s claims in a written statement and promises to return in order to keep reporting.