Venezuela’s Opposition Confronts Reduced Media Access and Limits to Critical Coverage

David Smilde and Hugo Pérez Henaíz

Change and continuity in Venezuela’s media landscape has complicated opposition to the administration of President Nicolas Maduro. The government is actively combating critical media coverage, and the political opposition finds itself with reduced space in broadcast media.

As was frequently the case during the Chávez years, critical media coverage has suffered legal pursuit at the hands of the government.

On Saturday November 1st, three reporters working for Venezuelan daily 2001, were detained for five hours by the Military Police while covering a government food distribution fair on the premises of military base Fuerte Tiuna in Caracas. Apparently the Military Police struggled to maintain control over the crowd and photographers from 2001 began to take pictures of the commotion. One of the reporters was detained, allegedly beaten and his camera confiscated by officers.

President Maduro referred to the incident the next day and said the reporters had been sent by enemies of the government in order to “soil” the beginning of the Christmas festivities. He added: “some reporters form the Bloque de Armas, from 2001, which is already facing a trial, were sent there in order to generate violence.” Maduro was referring to the investigation of 2001 by Venezuela’s Attorney General for its “criminal behavior” in reporting on fuel shortages.

Along the same lines, the government’s media supervision agency CONATEL recently opened an investigation of Globovisión for generating chaos by reporting on shortages.

Media activist Carlos Correa suggests that “the government associates the decline in its popularity with the stories it sees in the media. It is bothered by media coverage of scarcities, inflation and other issues that have a big impact on the popular sectors.” Indeed Maduro refers to some private media as “enemies of the fatherland” and part of an “economic war” that is being waged against the country.

While the government has complicated critical media coverage, the opposition has seen its exposure in broadcast media seriously reduced with changes in ownership at pro-opposition news TV channel Globovisión. While the station maintains a toned-down but still critical line, it has stopped providing live coverage of opposition leaders.

The opposition still enjoys an advantage in print media with ample coverage and support in leading outlets. However, in Venezuela circulation of print media is small when compared to the penetration of broadcast media.

The opposition has sought to circumvent decreasing exposure by using internet channels. Former opposition presidential candidate Henrique Capriles is now transmitting his press conferences on internet based Capriles TV. He also has more than twice as many Twitter followers (3.8 million) than Nicolas Maduro (1.4 million).

Correa suggests that it is not yet clear how viable these media are as alternatives to broadcast media. “Twitter and Capriles TV work for communication between leaders and followers. While internet penetration [in Venezuela] is close to 50%, it is slow and low capacity which limits the reach and potential [of such outlets].”