Venezuelan Free Press for Sale, under “Siege”

EspañolThe difficulties involved in managing an independent newspaper in Venezuela are manifold: violations of freedom of expression, the chronic shortage of paper, and political pressure on journalists all complicate reporters’ jobs.

All of these concerns came to the fore on Wednesday, January 22, when it emerged that independent daily Notitarde, based in the western city of Valencia, had been sold to Spanish business magnate José Rodríguez Álvarez.

Majority shareholder Ricardo Degwitz addressed the media outlet’s staff on Wednesday afternoon, informing them that the sale of the newspaper had completed on January 7. However, Degwitz reassured employees about the character of their new owner, and the future of the paper.

“I know his whole career, we have a close friendship. José Rodríguez is a humble and successful person, who arrived in Venezuela without any money,” Degwitz said.

“The sale was made in Venezuelan bolívares, and its new owners live in the country,” he added.

The acquisition marks the first foray into media ownership by Álvarez, a self-made businessmen currently the majority shareholder of the nearby Hesperia Hotel. Álvarez, also present at the announcement, confessed his lack of experience in the industry, saying it was the first time he was going into business without a partner with the relevant expertise.

“It’s official: the new owner of the Notitarde editorial group is principal shareholder of the Hesperia Hotel and well-known businessman José Rodriguez Alvarez.”

The transaction raised concerns among staff about the editorial line due to be followed by the new administration. Some have alleged that the sale of fellow local titles El Universal and Últimas Noticias resulted in marked changes in editorial policy towards a pro-government line.

Nevertheless, Álvarez sought to reassure fears over neutrality, as well as promising an answer to shortages in resources.

“You may wonder how we’re getting paper, if it has become so difficult in recent years. The answer is clear: yes, I sat down with the government, and asked them if in buying Notitarde I would be able to get paper, and they answered positively. They only asked me for pluralism in our reporting, but pluralism does not mean bias,” Álvarez said.

Free Press “under Siege”

The sale of Notitarde is not the only change taking place this week among the Venezuelan press.

On Thursday, January 22, staff members of Caracas-based Tal Cual told the PanAm Post that the outlet, founded in 2000, was due to cease circulation on February 2008. All employees on the print edition will be fired, although the future of the website is currently unclear.

Board member Miguel Puyana told the news team that management planned to maintain the website, and renew circulation of the physical paper at a later date on a weekly basis, with an emphasis on opinion pieces.

Tal Cual has been affected by the illness of his editor-director, veteran leftist journalist Teodoro Petkoff (Wikipedia)
Tal Cual has been affected by the illness of his editor-director, veteran progressive journalist Teodoro Petkoff. (Wikipedia)

Chief editor Xabier Coscojuela meanwhile attributed the closure to an “economic siege,” and highlighted government “restrictions on advertisers.” Coscojuela also made reference to the seven trials it has faced for allegedly defaming public officials.

“On average, we have been prosecuted every two years,” he said, adding that the directors of the media outlet “have been incessantly harassed.”

Two members of the editorial staff of Tal Cual, who asked not to be identified, said that the newspaper founded by veteran progressive politician Teodoro Petkoff had been losing readership and circulation as the country’s economic crisis deepened.

This crisis hit the paper hardest in affecting the supply both of paper and ink, leading Tal Cual to the brink of ending operations previously in October 2014.

The newspaper also suffered a blow in the same month, when media group Últimas Noticias, recently acquired by the government, refused to continue printing Tal Cual in its facilities, citing lack of capacity. The absence of 82-year-old Petkoff, who formerly managed the newspaper, for health reasons has also adversely affected the running of the paper.

Pedro García Otero contributed to this article.

Translated by Rebeca Morla. Edited by Laurie Blair.

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