Venezuela’s El Universal Sold, Editorial Independence on the Ropes

EspañolWhat started out as a rumor, soon became a reality: El Universal, one of the largest and most influential newspapers in Venezuela, has confirmed its sale. However, what worries most readers isn’t the sale, but the buyer.

With the change of hands, El Universal joins two other large media outlets sold in the last year, and the others have had to inevitably change their editorial lines to a more “government-friendly” one. In a country that suffers from declining press freedom, emerging uncertainty and rumors about the centenarian newspaper’s future have generated intense speculation in Venezuela.

The current directors of the newspaper, founded in 1909, will clear the air tomorrow though an op-ed regarding the new group of shareholders, as well as the new board of directors. However, various sources and investigative reports claim that the owners, the Mata family, have negotiated the newspaper’s sale for at least €90 million to a Spanish buyer (US$122 million). El Universal will now be managed by a consortium and directed by Jesús Abreu Anselmi, the brother of prominent Venezuelan orchestra director, José Antonio Abreu.

Jesús Abreu, president of EU [El Universal]: a Spanish company has been created with the purpose of purchasing El Universal.

Employees from El Universal in Caracas were called for a meeting today at 11:30 a.m. local time, to receive key information on the newspaper’s status.

In a few moments, the new president of El Universal, Jesús Abreu Anselmi, will meet with the journalists.

According to an investigative report in Konzapata, the new owners have direct links with emerging political movements in Spain. That includes the progressive party Podemos, led by Pablo Iglesias, and Chavista Juan Carlos Monedero. If this is confirmed, El Universal will be then be run by close political and ideological allies to the Chavista regime.

Even though the new director, Abreu, has promised he won’t change the staff, nor its editorial line any time soon, recent experiences with the sale of other prominent media outlets suggest the contrary. He has also said that the paper shortage will no longer be a problem for El Universal, as it plagues the industry, that they will be able to guarantee paper for a long time.

Jesús Abreu, president of EU [El Universal]: there isn’t any change in the editorial line of El Universal

After years of suffering high fines and numerous threats for its highly critical stand against the Chavista regime, the owners of Globovisión, the Zuloaga family, decided to sell the network for US$90 million in 2013, barely a month after Nicolás Maduro’s electoral victory. Its editorial line changed immediately.

As soon as the new owners took the network, they began to dismiss the leading journalists and anchors, and give less coverage to opposition leaders, rallies, and anti-government protests. The purging process got to a point where reporters resigned en masse, denouncing that they were being censored by the new directors. Those in charge even forbid journalists from mentioning certain words such as “peaceful protests,” “scarcity,” and “repression” during their daily broadcasts.

Journalists resign from newspaper Últimas Noticias leaving signs on their office chairs that read Journalism First
Journalists resign from newspaper Últimas Noticias leaving signs on their office chairs that read “Journalism First.” (CNP)

This year, Cadena Capriles, the newspaper conglomerate and owner of prominent newspapers like Últimas Noticias, was also sold for US$165 million to Latam Media Holding property of the Hanson Group. Even though the new board of directors promised to continue with the same editorial perspective, journalists didn’t resist for too long before falling into a more sympathetic line.

“I’m not the person they need; what they need is a political apparatchik,” Tamoa Calzadilla, former head of research in Últimas Noticias, stated after she resigned.

According to Carlos Correa, executive director of Espacio Público, currently 80 percent of media outlets are private, and 20 percent are public. However, when analyzing the editorial lines, the critical stand regarding the government, and their level of independence, the proportion is exactly the opposite. Eight out of 10 outlets tend not to criticize the government, which shows the declining diversity in Venezuelan journalism.

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