Is Venezuela’s Media Landscape Changing Again?

Hugo Pérez Hernáiz and David Smilde

On Monday February 1, officials of the government’s media watch dog Comisión Nacional de Telecomunicaciones (CONATEL) visited the offices of the private television channel Globovision. According to leading Globovision journalist Vladimir Villegas, the officials asked for documents and for explanations about “routine activities” of the channel. Villegas also said that Globovision is currently going through the process of requesting a renewal of its broadcasting license, but that CONATEL has so far failed to answer its request. “What are they after? Do they want to close the channel? To generate chaos?” asked Villegas. The episode seemed reminiscent of the tensions between the government and private media dating back to 2013.

Early this year, president Maduro complained about the media coverage of the new National Assembly. He said that journalists tended to be “very organic right-wing.” He further explained that when journalists interviewed a pro-government deputy, they “agreed beforehand” to cajole the deputy so that “he could not explain his point, but when they interview the deputies of the right, of the oligarchy, they become complacent. They coordinate the questions they want to ask.”

PSUV deputy, and ex-president of the National Assembly, Diosdado Cabello has also been critical of local media. On January 27 he said in his television show Con el Mazo Dando, that the director of pro-opposition newspaper El Nacional, Miguel Henrique Otero, was behind a re-edition of the “2002 coupist script,” which includes “a new media campaign pushed by right-wing media industry, aimed at discrediting the actions by the Chief of State to solve the current economic juncture of the country.”

Cabello was referring to the April 2002 coup against president Chávez in which the local private media, most notably television channels, played an important part. During the day of the coup television channels, such as Globovision, challenged the government blanket broadcast of events of the day by also showing in a split screen the violent street battels in downtown Caracas. The day after the coup private channels carried out an information blackout of the repression of pro-government protests asking for the return of president Chávez.

A change in leadership in Globovision in May 2013 reflected a transfer in ownership of the channel to a business group with alleged links to the government. In a short time a change in the editorial line of the channel became apparent. Several Pro-opposition news anchors and commentators where either asked to leave or dismissed, and Globovision stopped broadcasting live coverage of opposition events. The channel was criticized, for example, for its lack of coverage of the opposition protest in February 2014.

However, a noticeable change seems again to have taken place during the day of the elections for the National Assembly in December 6, 2015. Globovision, and other private television channels such as Televen, covered live the opposition’s Mesa de la Unidad (MUD) press conferences, and also aired live interviews with newly elected opposition representatives.

In January 5, 2016, the day of the inauguration of the new National Assembly, pro-opposition web pages showed surprise at finding Globovision among the news agencies broadcasting live the event. Globovision not only showed live the event inside the assembly’s chamber, but also covered the march organized by opposition supporters to accompany its elected deputies through the streets of Caracas. Commentators via social networks said they had never seen Globovision’s journalists “so happy” before, as they were given the chance to report live on opposition events.  

This apparent new change in line by local private media has also been noted by president Maduro. In January 23 he protested that “the media of the bourgeoisie are covering up everything, that’s what Globovision and Televen are seeking, to harm this revolution and to have our fatherland handed over and down on its knees. We are still fighting this battle.”