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JOURNALISM IN THE AMERICAS Blog

New owners of leading Venezuelan newspaper fire columnists and change editorial line



A leading Venezuelan newspaper that was recently sold to anonymous investors appears to be shifting its opposition editorial line weeks after pledging not to. The managing editor at El Universal, Elides Rojas, told the International Press Institute (IPI) that the newspaper’s new president had “ordered a complete revision of the opinion section” and had suspended or dismissed editorial staff.

El Universal has been a vocal critic of the Venezuelan government, especially on its editorial pages.

Weeks ago, the spokesman for the group of unknown buyers who bought the 105-year-old newspaper last month, Jose Luis Basanta, dismissed fears that the buyers had a political agenda in an interview with Bloomberg News.

“The editorial line is not going to be touched but only the days, the weeks and the months ahead will be able to demonstrate that,” he told Bloomberg.

However, IPI reports at least 18 writers have been suspended from El Universal and 11 others were fired or quit after being notified their columns would be “temporarily suspended” from the paper due to an “editorial restructuring.” Elsalvador.com also reported “massive dismissals” at the paper.

El Universal is the third media giant sold to investors under the presidency of Nicolas Maduro, and shake-ups in the editorial department are exactly what many journalists feared after the sale in July. Many allege the buy-outs have been a means of silencing opposition voices.

A long battle has been waged between Venezuelan private media and the Boliviarian governments of Hugo Chavez and Nicolas Maduro. After media bosses allegedly took part in planning a 2002 coup that ousted Chavez for two days, the former president systematically closed or silenced almost all major independent TV networks. Newspapers have also closed under economic pressure, and several have been bought out.

Daniel Lansberg-Rodriguez, a Chicago-based former columnist for El Universal, reported receiving an email notifying him of the editorial restructuring.

“We’re sorry to inform you that, due to editorial restructuring, there has been a series of adjustments and we will no longer be able to publish your work,” said the email according to Rodriguez’s op-ed in The New York Times.

In an editorial explaining the dismissal of editorial staff, El Universal wrote, “All newspapers of the world establish that they reserve the right to publish articles of opinion of the staff that write their pages. If the contents violate the code of ethics, the newspaper abstains from publishing the text,” reports Venezuela’s Caracol Radio.

Last month, the new president of El Universal, Jesús Abreu Anselmi, denied that the paper’s anonymous buyers had connections with the government or intended to change the editorial line.

“I told the whole staff that the editorial line that has been kept in the daily for 105 years, marked by impartiality, will absolutely prevail,” he said in an interview with El Universal.



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