June 27th was Day of the Journalist in Venezuela and instead of being simply an occasion to celebrate, it was a day to protest the continuous erosion of free press in the nation. Journalists and press workers took the streets on Friday to demand respect for free speech and to demand an end to the many threats and pressures they have been facing in recent times.
Both the hegemony and what’s left of independent media awarded what they consider as excellence in journalism: The central government gave their awards to mostly State Media and HegemonCorp. outlets, while the NGO Insituto Prensa y Sociedad (IPYS) recognized the best investigative works, including some from websites like RunRun.Es and Contrapunto.
I consider this latest Journalist’s Day as the most difficult yet, even more so than last year’s (which came right after the wave of protests). Why? Because the attacks in multiple fronts against the remains of the non-hegemony media landscape have intensified and this time they can’t hide under the “riots” excuse: Broadcasters have been muzzled, newspapers continue their struggle against Newsprint-geddon and even journalists’ physical and legal integrity are on a very high risk. Meanwhile, the hegemony has more than double its overall presence in the airwaves and the red bulldozer in the National Assembly pushes new restrictive legislation.
This week, the Alliance for Free Speech (formed by journalists, investigators, professors, NGOs and others) made public a strong statement, describing the difficult situation and asking for guarantees to fully perform their work.
Institutional violence, for omission and/or for deliberate action of the State, affects directly the professional performance of journalism and with it the democratic quality of society is hit as well. Restrictions to this right reduces the debate for the diagnosis and construction of solutions for the problems that Venezuelans suffer.
Every situation that a reporter cannot cover, if by restricting access, aggressions by functionaries or others, by stealing their work equipment, or by censorship, represents news that isn’t published or transmitted, and not received by citizens.”
International human rights groups like Human Rights Watch have noticed this too. Even Nicolas Maduro himself has sort-of admitted the existence of a state of censorship in Venezuela, even if he puts the blame on the media itself.
But the most worrying aspect now is that the Chavista model of comnunicational hegemony has been successfully exported to other Latin American countries in recent years and it’s been put into action by allied governments: From Rafael Correa’s draconian media law and the hefty fines that comes with it, to Cristina Kirchner’s embrace of the abuse of mandatory broadcasts (cadenas nacionales) and the use of the State media TV for her political ends. Even the HegemonCorp. model has been copied in Nicaragua by Daniel Ortega by buying newspapers, radio and TV stations.
But back home, everything’s not lost. Venezuelans have found new sources to get news thanks to the Internet. Beside the ones already mentioned, there has been a boom of new websites like El Estimulo, Cronica.Uno and El Cooperante. There’s even online Internet TV channels like VivoPlay. Here at Caracas Chronicles we have already written about two of the most prominent: Prodavinci and EfectoCocuyo. However, the hegemony has taken notice and increase efforts on the Internet and in the social networks.
If you want to read the Alliance for Free Speech’s statement in full, go here. You can even co-sign it, just like I did. Unfortunately, it’s only available in Spanish.