A broadening media black-out targets Venezuelan online video sites

The Venezuelan regime is moving to shut down access not just to broadcast media but even to online sources of video news, including even the National Assembly’s official online channel.

On Friday, social media was abuzz with reports that three online TV channels. Websites for VivoPlay, VPI TV and El Capitolio TV —the official online outlet for one of the three “equal” branches of government— had been blocked within Venezuela.

We confirmed it was true, and as a move it certainly shows intent. It was also fairly useless, though: all of these online outlets put their videos and feeds up on YouTube, and they’re still available there. (The government can’t selectively shut off some YouTube channels without taking down the entire site, which they’re not willing to do. Yet.)

Luis Carlos Diaz pointed at the national broadcasting authority (CONATEL) as the main culprit.

Neither CONATEL nor the Communication & Information Ministry (MinCI) have released any kind of statement about this. But in February, shortly after CNN en Español offered its online signal for free to Venezuela, CONATEL’s Director-General Andres Eloy Mendez admitted that “they would coordinate with ISP, using available technology, to make the respective blocking (of CNN)”.

VivoPlay’s Marketing VP Nelson Hulett confirmed the connectivity problems of the website in an interview with Fedecamaras Radio: “…there’s a DNS block in place, which we have not identified the source but there’s the possibility that these flaws are consequences of an isolated attack, an order from government entity or because of information traffic”.

Fun fact: even the National Guard was using VivoPlay to monitor the protests, as they said in this blink-and-it’s-gone Tweet.

Another blocked outlet, VPI TV (Venezolanos por la Informacion) was right at the center of the coverage of Thursday’s protest in Caracas: VPI’s camera operator Elvis Flores was arrested by GNB soldiers, taken to SEBIN HQ and later released after nine hours. Here’s his personal account of his detention and questioning, courtesy of the National Press Workers’ Union (SNTP):

The third outlet blocked is El Capitolio TV, gallingly, the online channel for the National Assembly — you know, the Branch of government TSJ definitely didn’t shut down last week. El Capitolio TV was created to replace the hegemony-seized ANTV, but of course was never allowed to broadcast free-to-air. Nonetheless, since El Capitolio TV has been successful in breaking the official wall of silence, it started to be seen as a serious liability.

El “desacato” sirve para todo…

With free-to-air TV stations muzzled and CNN en Español outlawed, Venezuelans have few options left to be informed about the current protests. Only local online media outlets are still offering coverage of the events, but that window is now being shut as well by the hegemony.

This action comes almost a month after a series of damaging DDoS attacks against some local media websites and NGOs. Even if there’s no direct links between such attacks and this new series of digital blockades, both contribute to an atmosphere of growing disinformation and distrust. As the Wall Street Journal’s Juan Forero put it on Twitter yesterday,

The silver lining? This broad crackdown has brought solidarity among some of the independent media left in the country: outlets like El Estimulo, Runrun.es, Efecto Cocuyo or TalCual are now streaming the live feed of VivoPlay on their own sites.