Zulian Journalists Struggle to Report Due To Phone Service Collapse

The decline of phone service providers in Zulia has affected immediacy based news outlets. Digital journalism is threatened by poor communications, as the citizens’ right to information crumbles under a generalized collapse.

Photo: retrieved

In Zulia State, power outages have prompted the collapse of many services, leaving damaged home appliances, economic losses for shop owners and even the death of elderly citizens due to high temperatures. Communications and phone services have also declined, affecting human and professional relations. For journalists, reporting the news isn’t simple in this context.

Venezuela has three mobile service providers: Movistar, Digitell and, Movilnet, a provider nationalized by the government of Venezuela and, coincidentally, the one that offers the worst service.

For journalists, reporting the news isn’t simple in this context.

Previously, the media enjoyed an immediacy that’s now in ruins due to terrible phone services. Media outlets in the region have been severely affected by electrical failures and by robberies of wires and antennas. Commonly, media outlets and websites handle important news reports through WhatsApp. Due to poor signal, journalists can’t access this tool to do their work. Many sectors of the city don’t have CANTV internet (the cheapest and farthest-reaching service in the country) and in many cases, loading a page takes longer than reading its contents.

Landlines aren’t safe from the communicational decay either: many communities in Maracaibo have been isolated for over a year, when the systematic robbery of CANTV cables started, since they can be sold at steep prices in the black market.

Many communities in Maracaibo have been isolated for over a year.

Radio Fe y Alegría Maracaibo is one of the many victims. This news outlet mostly works through phone call reports, but they haven’t had phone service since May 2017. In March this year, they managed to replace the wiring, but only for a week before it was stolen again. One of its journalists, Katherine De Salvo, says: “We stay in touch with our reporters through phone calls. The information they report is transmitted live on the radio. 80% of those calls fail, so real-time reports are lost. This violates the right to information.”

Jorge Fernández, former network director for the digital platform Versión Final, says that his printed outlet takes a lot of internet data, so the international company Totalcom provided them with satellite internet service for mobile devices and computers. But in early 2018, the web page started experiencing malfunctions.

“We reported it to the company but they claimed that it isn’t a technical issue, but other kind of problem: an information blackout. We had to migrate to another internet service provider. We chose Movistar, but far from being a solution, everything got worse. The service was so slow that it was useless to maintain a platform based on updating information 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The information blackout, theft of optical fiber, coupled with power outages, led us to a technical shutdown. We lost both constancy and immediate access to news.”

Fernández says that there’s almost no digital journalism left in Venezuela due to internet and phone signal difficulties: “We couldn’t guarantee ready access to news, so we decided to do investigative journalism rich in analysis for the page instead.”

There’s also the case of independent journalists, who make a living maintaining and updating social media or web pages. Juan Machado says: “Internet cables near my home were stolen some time ago, so whenever I have to send articles from my laptop, I connect it to my cell phone data. Phone services are so diminished that I have to wait until late at night (when the internet works better) to send them. I must go without sleep for days in order to get money for home.”

There’s almost no digital journalism left in Venezuela due to internet and phone signal difficulties.

As for me, I produce a regional TV show called Zulia en Caliente, that shows the three most relevant news of the day. Before producing them, I must discuss the selection with the show’s host. He uses Movilnet (State-run company) and when I call him, 70 out of 100 words sound as if I was talking with Robocop. At the end of the day, the quality of what we deliver to our audience is poorer.

It’s worth noting that when the explosion in the General Rafael Urdaneta bridge took place on August 10, six days went by before the Movilnet platform was back online. It’s hard to believe that Movilnet used to be a pioneer in the communications industry.

Telecommunication companies have been drowned by the country’s economic crisis. In some opportunities, they’ve been unable to increase their fees because the government doesn’t let them, which makes the service one of the cheapest in Latin America and the world (no plan surpasses dollar prices.) This translates to low wages for the staff and lack of incentives when investing in high-tech equipment, because Venezuela’s ravenous economy devours everyday earnings. In short: telecommunication companies usually work at a loss, according to experts consulted on the issue.

Venezuela shatters any communicational model based on “sender-message-receiver.”

By the way: in order to send this article, I had to wait until late at night so my cell phone’s internet was fast enough, connect it to my laptop and send the text. My editor also had to transcribe information over the phone, due to an unbearable slow internet.