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Nearly 40 publications affected as Venezuelan newsprint crisis worsens



Venezuela’s oldest daily newspaper, El Impulso, is the latest publication to narrowly avert a shutdown amid an ongoing newsprint (paper) shortage that has affected nearly 40 newspapers and magazines across the country over the past year.

On Sept. 10, when El Impulso announced that an ongoing, two-year newsprint shortage would force the publication to discontinue their print edition, a private company offered the newspaper – which has been serving Venezuela for 110 years – enough newsprint for two additional weeks of publication.

The short-term solution comes as one of many that that the publication has been forced to adopt in recent years. In January, El Impulso had to borrow newsprint from the newspaper Carabobeño, according to editor Juan Manuel Carmona. Carabobeño has also been forced to reduce its print edition.

“It is simply a palliative and not a solution,” Gisela Carmona, El Impulso’s marketing director, said in a statement to the Associated Press, referencing the two-week supply of newsprint.

While the government has appointed the private newsprint distributor Maneiro Corporation to the case in hopes of finding a long-term solution for El Impulso, there are doubts as to whether or not such an agreement will find success.

According to Reporters Without Borders, at least 37 Venezuelan newspapers have been affected by the newsprint shortage over the past year. While national media outlets have been forces to cut back on pages, many regional and smaller media outlets have had to close operations altogether.

Last week, the Institute for Press and Society of Venezuela (IPYS) released a list of newspapers, state by state, that have been reported newsprint shortages. There have also been reported shortages of ink, film, and the plates necessary for printing.

The Inter-American Press Association (IAPA) has called Venezuela’s failure to address the newsprint crisis while, in parallel, launching two state-sponsored newspapers, evidence of the government’s “bipolarity.”

"On the one hand, [the government] brazenly announces the creation of new official media, and on the other it maintains a systematic and oppressive policy in economic and legal terms with the intention of continuing to close private and independent media,” said Claudio Polillo, president of IAPA’s Committee on Freedom of Press and Information.

Because the country does not produce enough to cover internal needs, newsprint is commonly imported from the United States and Canada. The problem is a government rule that requires newspapers to request an official permit to acquire dollars, which is necessary to buy foreign newsprint. According to El Impulso editor Carmona, these requests – which require 16 bureaucratic steps – can take months to process and, after that amount of time, can still be denied.

Print newspapers continue to play an important role in the country’s media landscape, as many Venezuelans are unable to afford internet service or a computer and given that many TV and radio stations are controlled by the government or have self-censored to keep from losing their licenses. The 105-year-old daily newspaper El Universal, for example, known for its open criticism of the Venezuelan government, was forced to cut back on its print edition earlier this year due to a lack of newsprint. Later the newspaper was sold and the new owners changed its editorial line.

In the meantime, the Venezuelan government has admitted that it possesses an “emergency supply” of newsprint, an admission that, for many advocates of freedom of information, calls into question its limited availability within the country.

“The fact that there is an “emergency supply” of newsprint shows that solving the problem of newsprint shortage that is affecting the press depends on the will of the government,” Camille Soulier, the Americas representative for Reporters Without Borders, said in a statement earlier this month.

“The shortage of newsprint represents indirect censorship and amounts to a coup to pluralism and freedom of information.”



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