Knight Center
Knight Center

JOURNALISM IN THE AMERICAS Blog

Venezuelan media suffer attacks and restrictions of coverage at polling locations during presidential elections



During the highly criticized Venezuelan presidential elections on May 20, monitors of freedom of expression recorded physical attacks on journalists as well as intimidation. It’s more of the same for a community of journalists that has been threatened physically, in the courts and online while covering growing political and societal unrest in recent years.

On election day, many national and international journalists were evicted from voting centers and prevented from carrying out their work covering the elections due to restrictions imposed by members Plan República –a military faction created by the government to oversee order for the elections– according to Venezuelan NGO Espacio Público.

That day, Espacio Público recorded at least 28 cases of violations of freedom of expression that affected 23 press workers of 17 national and international media outlets. This happened in Caracas and in the states of Zulia, Aragua, Mérida, Lara and Bolívar.

"What happened was the unfolding of an absolutely conditioned freedom. The dynamic was very conditioned by the fear (of the media outlets and journalists) of the (legal) sanctions," Carlos Correa, director of Espacio Público, told the Knight Center. "It was a very brutal campaign in those terms, very complicated.”

The National Union of Press Workers (SNTP, for its acronym in Spanish) has tweeted at least 13 alerts since election morning on May 20. Most of the alerts denounce journalists being prohibited by the armed forces from entering polling centers or from covering the electoral process. On social networks, the union also denounced the temporary detention of Juan Carlos Salas, journalist and editor of the site Hispanopost, inside a voting center in Chacao.

Salas reported via Twitter that members of Plan República detained him for taking photos outside the building, even though he had the proper accreditation issued by the National Electoral Council (CNE) for covering elections. The military members who held him for 15 minutes told him that taking pictures was a crime, Espacio Público published.

Likewise, journalist Marjuli Matheus, correspondent for Diario Las Américas and Revista Proceso de México, was removed from a voting center in La Vega, Caracas, by a member of the Plan República, according to the Press and Society Institute (IPYS) of Venezuela. Matheus said on her Twitter account that the soldier surnamed Maldonado told her that she could take photos outside, "but there a lady rebuked me and got people on motorcycles to steal my cell phone.”

Several media outlets and journalists also reported being intimidated by groups of armed motorcyclists allegedly aligned with the government who shouted to journalists to hide their cameras, the newspaper Las Américas published in a video on Twitter. According to IPYS Venezuela, motorcyclists with their faces covered were in the municipalities of Maracaibo and San Francisco, in the State of Zulia.

Espacio Público reported in its election news bulletin that on May 20, 12 motorcyclists harassed and threatened a group of journalists who went to cover a situation at an electoral center in Maracaibo in which poll workers aligned with opposition candidate Henri Falcón were allegedly banned from entering.

According to the organization, journalist Estefany Osorio of Venezolanos por la Información (VPI) stated that the motorists surrounded them and forced them to hide their phones and cameras, threatening to take their equipment.

Many press professionals were left without credentials to cover the elections. According to Espacio Público, journalists from all over the country reported delays in the delivery of their CNE-issued credentials. According to the organization, 63 percent of the media outlets consulted throughout the country never received their credentials.

"There were many journalists who could not be accredited despite having completed the forms, but even during reporting there were many limitations especially for taking photographs, videos, and things like that," the director of Espacio Público said. He added that in these presidential elections in Venezuela where the government of President Nicolás Maduro sought to legitimize himself, voter abstention is what prevailed. They "did not want there to be documentation of whether or not there was participation at the polling locations,” Correa said.

For IPYS Venezuela, aggressions against the press, challenges to the circulation of print media and sanctions on radio stations resulted in a disinformation campaign that characterized the days leading up to the Venezuelan presidential elections. It also mentioned the technical advantages of the official media in comparison with the disadvantage this poses for independent media, the attacks on news portals and precarious access to the internet that also ended up affecting the citizens.

The Venezuelan electoral authority reported on May 21 that last Sunday there were almost 21 million votes in polling stations throughout the country. Of these, only 8,603,000 were categorized as valid. According to the official announcement of the state entity, Nicolás Maduro was re-elected as president of Venezuela for one more term after obtaining almost 6 million votes.



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