65 attacks on journalists, freedom of expression during Venezuelan mass protests: IPYS

By Samantha Badgen

The mass protests in Venezuela have led to 65 violations to freedom of expression, according to the Press and Society Institute (IPYS). As part of those violations, the organization published that, since the protests began on Feb. 12, 69 journalists have been affected by the situation. Among the violations are cases of aggressive and arbitrary arrests by police forces and attacks by protesters and government sympathizers.

The most recent incidents were the Feb. 28 arrest of Italian photojournalist Francesca Commissari while covering police repression during a protest, and the Mar. 5 arrest of Jesus Tovar, chief of photography of the newspaper Avance, and a reporter of Cadena Capriles, who were detained by the Bolivarian National Guard (GNB) while covering a protest in Miranda, Venezuela.

According to IPYS, several national and international journalists have reported attacks and arbitrary arrests by government agents. Included among them are the reporters from CNN en Español, whose work permits were revoked, and the Colombian chain NTN24, which had its signal blocked mid-transmission while reporting on the protests.

At the time the work permits for the CNN team were revoked, President Nicolás Maduro threatened to take CNN off the air and demanded a correction be issued after accusing the chain of spreading “war propaganda” for broadcasting images of the violent events that took place in the protests all over the country. He added that CNN is biased and refuses to show the “violent gangs” that are seeking to destabilize the country and overthrow the government, IPYS said.

Cases of media censorship have also been registered. Last week Twitter reported that the images of the protests being spread through its service were being blocked in Venezuela by the National Anonymous Telephone Company of Venezuela (CANTV), which belongs to the state and provides services to about 90 percent of the country.

The Venezuelan government’s efforts to block online content is not new. Last December the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) wrote that Maduro’s government was forcing internet providers to censor online content. Supported by the country's media law -- under which it's illegal to publish or broacast information that could sow panic in the population -- Maduro has forced providers to block pages where the Venezuelan bolivar-dollar black market exchange rates are shown, because the  black market rates are ten times higher than the official number.

Besides the attacks on private-media journalists and the incidents of censorship, IPYS said they’ve also documented attacks against the National Commission of Telecommunications (Conatel) and Venezuelan Television -- both state companies -- in which a media worker and a cameraman for the state communications office were injured.

Since the protests began on Feb. 12 there have been 18 deaths and more than 260 persons injured. The protests began as student marches against the country’s high levels of violence, the shortage of food, medicine and other goods, and the high index of inflation which has resulted in high costs of many goods and services.

Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.