Venezuela’s Second City Has Zero Newspapers

Maracaibo's main newspaper, Panorama, stopped publishing its printed edition. Even if it always had a complacent editorial line with past and present governments, it didn't survive the hegemony.

Photo: Panorama retrieved

With a long editorial, Panorama, Maracaibo’s oldest newspaper, announced on May 14th that it would end its print edition. Even if they promised to continue working on their digital platforms, the statement read more like a long goodbye.

One after another, all Zulian newspapers have fallen to the hegemony. La Verdad, Versión Final, El Regional del Zulia and Qué Pasa are all gone, and the second largest Venezuelan city doesn’t have any papers to report the news, right in the middle of a brutal electricity shortage, which affects phone communications and internet connectivity. For many marabinos, Panorama was still the only option to be informed about what’s going on in their town, and around the world.

Yet Panorama seems committed to exculpate the government from the economic crisis that they blame as the reason for their forced pause, minimizing the role of the state controlling all newsprint purchases.

One after another, all Zulian newspapers have fallen to the hegemony.

As local journalist Jesús Urbina said on Twitter: “They saw the killer shooting at them and their only beef is that the gun wasn’t the right caliber.”

Urbina spoke with Caracas Chronicles to explain why Panorama was able to resist longer:

“First, they had a stronger economic muscle than their counterparts. Second, its editorial line allowed them to have a relationship with those in power, especially during the last 20 years, giving them advantages and protection.”

Founded in 1904, Panorama had circulation numbers that challenged those of Caracas’ main papers. Its tabloid-like coverage of crimes was notorious to the point that they were proud of being “the only paper that was read from the last page (where crime stories were published) to the front.” Seriously.

Panorama wasn’t much of a combative outlet but it wasn’t a propaganda mouthpiece either, like the state-owned papers or Últimas Noticias. They prefered to underplay issues like human rights abuses, with chairwoman Patricia Pineda Hernández saying “Panorama avoided self-censorship… but also passions and fanaticism.”

Its dominance in Zulia was partly owed to its very good relationship with those in power both in Maracaibo and in the capital, something that didn’t start with Chávez’s arrival to Miraflores.

Journalist Juan Carlos Zapata tells in his book “Plomo más plomo es guerra” how late Chairman-Editor, Esteban Pineda Belloso, got off the hook in the mid-90s banking crisis, thanks to his good relations. His economic influence was also diverse and helped crush any attempt of direct competition, at least until La Verdad came out, in 1998.

Panorama wasn’t much of a combative outlet but it wasn’t a propaganda mouthpiece either,.

But he didn’t get along with then governor Francisco Arias Cárdenas, pushing instead for Manuel Rosales (later elected when Arias unsuccessfully challenged Chávez in 2000). In 2004, Belloso served as mediator between the comandante eterno and Rosales (who signed the infamous Carmona decree back in April 2002, and was later crushed by Chávez in the 2006 election).

However, Arias eventually reconciled with Panorama once he rejoined chavismo and, last year, he went to the paper to denounce the attacks by the incumbent governor, Omar Prieto.

The paper allowed former Oil Minister/PDVSA Chairman Rafael Ramírez, now in exile and Maduro’s strongest chavista critic, to publish his Sunday opinion articles, which occupied an entire page. It was the only national outlet to provide major space to Ramírez.

Also, this recent cover from early April seemed to be a break from their typical editorial stance, in the wake of the terrible situation Zulia is suffering. Some saw it as a sign of a possible shift, but the ongoing electric crisis was the final straw for them instead, as costs of functioning while lacking newsprint made it all unsustainable. Sister tabloid Mi Diario shut down too.

Urbina says that the rapid demise of newspapers in Venezuela was supposed to happen a couple of decades from now, as futurist Ross Dawson pointed out in 2010. Instead, the forced disappearance of newspapers we’re witnessing here is the work of “an authoritarian regime who has worked all these years on ending plurality through more perfect mechanisms, just like they did in the radio-electric terrain.”