Headquartered in Miami and covering Venezuela and the rest of Latin America, VP ITV announced on 10 January that it has been forced to suspend its operations in Venezuela, where it employs around 150 people and where its local coverage is very critical of President Nicolás Maduro’s government.
The suspension was the result of the joint raid that the National Telecommunications Commission (CONATEL) and the National Customs and Tax Agency (SENIAT) carried out on 8 January without any prior warning, confiscating all of its transmission equipment, cameras and computers and interrogating many of its employees.
Panorama, a regional daily that has been publishing for 106 years in Maracaibo, the capital of the northwestern state of Zulia, also received a surprise visit on the same day from SENIAT, which ordered it to suspend all operations for five days on the grounds of alleged tax violations.
Tal Cual, a news website that it very critical of Chavismo (the left-wing government founded by Maduro’s predecessor, the late Hugo Chávez), was meanwhile forced offline for several hours by a cyber-attack, which was repeated on 11 January.
“The state censorship being carried out by Nicolás Maduro’s government against critical and opposition media is having dire consequences for the Venezuelan people, whose access to varied and pluralistic news coverage is increasingly restricted,” said Emmanuel Colombié, the head of RSF’s Latin America bureau.
“The freedom to inform and media pluralism are the pillars of democracy. By harassing and throttling independent, non-state media outlets, the Venezuelan government is shooting itself in the foot and is doing its population a disservice.”
This censorship wave comes at a time of tension resulting from a government offensive against the opposition. The government recently accused several independent NGOs and media outlets, including Radio Fe y Alegría and three websites, Efecto Cocuyo, Caraota Digital and El Pitazo, of being foreign-funded “journalism mercenaries” seeking to bring down the government. These claims were followed by attacks and a break-in at Radio Fe y Alegría on 8 January.
According to the local NGO Espacio Público, a total of 17 news websites and 18 local radio stations were forced to close in 2020.
Venezuela is ranked 147th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2020 World Press Freedom Index