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Venezuelan government censors news on country’s economic crisis, CPJ says

The Venezuelan government is suppressing news about the economic crisis in the country through attacks on journalists and the media, according to a report from the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Venezuelan authorities have called the country's spiraling inflation and shortages of basic commodities an “economic war” against President Nicolas Maduro’s government, and have responded with measures ranging from forcing companies to cut prices, arresting businessmen accused of hoarding, and keeping a close eye on journalists who report on the situation, CPJ said.

In the last two months, journalists have been temporarily detained, the country's attorney general has opened investigations against media reporting on the national economy, and senior officials have publicly berated journalists who use the word “shortage.”

"The government realizes that the economic situation is extremely critical and that it could provoke a social explosion," Marianela Balbi, the director of the Caracas-based Institute for Press and Society, told CPJ. "So they are focusing much of their attention on media coverage of the economy."

The report notes that the government has undertaken pursuing newspapers that report  on how government policies have played a large role in bringing about the economic troubles and how shortages and one of the world's highest inflation rates are impacting readers."

One of the cases that the CPJ cited was the attorney general's investigation on newspaper Diario 2001 after it published an article that manifested a possible gasoline shortage last October. In November, three of its reporters were jailed for taking pictures of a crowd of people who broke the security barriers in a food fair thinking there would not be enough food for everyone. The only government agency that advertised in Diario 2001's pages stopped doing so shortly after, CPJ reported.

Foreign correspondents have not been exempt. CPJ recalled the case of journalist Jim Wyss, The Miami Herald's Andean Region correspondent bureau chief, who was detained by members of the National Guard when he was going to do an interview about the rise of contraband moving through Venezuela’s border with Colombia.

La Mesa de la Unidad Democrática, or MUD -- a coalition of opposition parties in Venezuela -- issued a statement expressing their solidarity with journalists who are targeted or attacked for doing their job in a report published on news portal ICB. The statement not only highlights the increase in attacks on freedom of expression, but also the impunity with which they are made. It also denounced the alleged calls that President Maduro made to media owners to fire certain journalists, as well as restrictions on the import of newsprint as a mechanism to reduce the circulation of newspapers.

In September, President Maduro asked the judicial branch and the attorney general's office to grant him “special measures” to sanction media outlets that report on the shortages in the country. His argument was that the press was waging a psychological warfare against the government.


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