Venezuela’s Globaltv was reporting live last week when National Assembly President Juan Guaidó announced that he was declaring himself president of Venezuela.
The consequences were swift.
Five hours after the Jan. 23 event, 30 police units raided the most important open-signal station in the northwestern state of Zulia, vandalizing its equipment and destroying security cameras.
“They came and without any warning at all attacked our installations, disconnecting key parts of our broadcasting system and taking away as much as they could,” Globaltv owner and president Guido Briceño told el Nuevo Herald.
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Hours earlier, Briceño had received a message on his cellphone: “Feels like going over the line. I hope you have the guts to keep it up.”
Briceño said the police raids were retaliation for the station’s decision to fulfill “as always, our responsibility to report on the events that were taking place: the huge protests in all of Venezuela and the giant gathering in Caracas where Guaidó swore himself in” as president.
“We were the only open-signal channel in Venezuela to broadcast that, and the only channel punished so severely,” Briceño said.
The station broadcast a speech by Nicolás Maduro the same day.
Globaltv, launched 21 years ago, remains off the air and Briceño said there’s no telling when it will return because it has to buy new equipment amid tight currency controls and hyperinflation.
“We have tried for many years in a stubborn effort to continue working because we’re committed to informing the community,” he said.
That commitment is growing more difficult every day because of threats and harassment of journalists and closures of news media, according to Venezuelan and foreign non-governmental groups.
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reported that the Maduro regime raided at least three newsrooms on Jan. 23 in southern Venezuela, closed a TV channel, arrested two journalists and blocked the internet — used by many Venezuelans to get around government censorship of the news media.
The Venezuela Press and Society Institute registered 16 cases of violations of freedom of expression during coverage of anti-government protests in seven states Jan. 23-24 due to “abuse of power, restrictions on coverage … attacks and intimidation by security forces” and others.
Its report said the General Military Counterintelligence Directorate took Globaltv, Aventura TV and Noticia al Día in the city of Maracaibo in northwestern Venezuela off the air after raiding their buildings and seizing broadcast and internet equipment.
“Venezuelan journalists and news media were victims of censorship and aggressions by government officials during the [protests] of Jan. 23,” the Institute reported.
The organization Expresión Libre complained earlier this week that amid the “repression, hyperinflation, lack of security, corruption and grave international accusations against the government, citizens do not have access to timely, truthful, impartial and balanced news reports. Which generates confusion, chaos and disinformation.”
The harassment of journalists has continued since Jan. 23. Two Chilean and two Venezuelan journalists were arrested Tuesday in the Miraflores presidential palace in Caracas as they covered a protest nearby.
Maiker Yriarte of TVVenezuela Noticias and Ana Rodríguez of VPITV were freed Wednesday morning while Rodrigo Pérez and Gonzalo Barahona of Chile’s TVN were deported to Panama, according to the National Union of News Workers.
María Elvira Domínguez, president of the Miami-based Inter American Press Association, has said that arresting journalists is “an abusive practice by the government to intimidate and limit the circulation of independent information of public interest.”
Venezuelans have been using social networks to get around those attempts to limit their access to information. But the censors’ claws have reached even there.
The regime cut off the journalists’ “lungs and capacity to breathe,” Briceño said. “But they ran into a huge surprise: The social networks performed an extraordinary service. But now there are lockouts. There’s no access to some news portals and blogs.”
The Venezuela Press and Society Institute measured internet access and speeds on Jan. 23 and found the service was irregular in home as well as cellphone connections.
Access to Google services such as Gmail was also irregular, the Institute added, “reflecting blocking mechanisms using TCP/IP that … affect end users and restrict the personal or home consumption of Internet content.”
María José Ramírez, editor in chief of the digital news site TLCNews, said the internet interruptions obstruct the work of her staffers, especially journalists outside Caracas who need to transmit their information to the Venezuelan capital.
TLCNews live streams its reports on Facebook using volunteer journalists.
“We also have serious problems with the electricity, especially in Zulia, which makes it hard to report live,” Ramírez said. “On top of that is the theft of equipment from the journalists.”
Ramírez said that at night, during the main news outlets’ “information vacuums,” it tries to create news summaries and contact sources about possible rumors.
“Something is always happening at night. At those times, we’ve had 1,700 people connected, and our live transmissions have reached up to 100,000 people,” she added.