Knight Center
Knight Center


Role of Venezuelan government in newsprint shortage crisis worries organizations

Image via WAN-IFRA.

Since 2003, a currency exchange system in Venezuela has prevented businesses from importing certain products without first purchasing foreign currencies provided by the state. In 2012, newsprint, which is not produced in the country, was listed as not being a priority item, forcing newspapers to file requests with the government for foreign currencies in order to import it.

Newspapers have suffered since then due to the difficulty of obtaining these currencies and, by extension, newsprint. Recently, the crisis has worsened with newsprint reserves dropping at every newspaper.

“We are in a delicate situation today, I would say extreme, in which ten of the country’s newspapers have closed and six have only enough newsprint until February,” said Claudio Paolillo, president of the Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information of the Inter American Press Association, who offered a digital presentation on Jan. 24 to speak about government controls over media content.

According to Paolillo, also director of the Uruguayan weekly Búsqueda, the Venezuelan government has intentionally made importing newsprint difficult and has managed the country’s currency exchange system arbitrarily for months.

The claim does not seem implausible given the tense relationship between the government and the press during the shortage crisis of basic necessities in the country. Press organizations say there was an 87 percent increase in censorship cases in Venezuela during 2013. In October, President Nicolas Maduro called for sanctions against the media, blaming them for causing the food shortages by provoking citizens to hoard goods. Similarly, in January, party legislator Julio Chavez denied that there was a paper shortage and claimed that newspapers were hoarding in order to wage an “economic war” against the government. In other instances, the government said the private media are colluding with the CIA in a plot to destabilize the country. 

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), newsprint was easier to secure before August 2012 when the commodity was taken off the “priority” import list. Now, the process requires 16 bureaucratic steps that can each take months to complete, El Impulso editor Juan Manuel Carmona told CPJ. He added that all his newspaper’s requests for US dollars were ignored last year.

Paolillo said that by restricting the flow of ideas and opinions, whether through direct or indirect means, the Venezuelan government was acting in violation of article 13 of the American Convention on Human Rights, which promises freedom of thought and expression. 

He added that there was a tendency in Latin America to mistake these freedoms for something a government can grant their people using the law. “But rarely do we remember,” Paolillo said, “that freedom of expression is a human right, inherent to us and pre-existing any state, any law.”

Regardless of whether or not the shortages are intentional, the lack of newsprint is quickly having a detrimental effect on Venezuela’s press. Last March, El Zocalo reported that 95 percent of Venezuelan publications were affected by the shortage. More recently, CPJ reported that several newspapers including El Nacional and El Impulso are in danger of suspending operations. Last year, there were numerous reports of the suspension of several regional dailies including El Sol de Maturin and Antorcha.

*Knight Center writer Lynn Romero contributed to this post. 


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