Unflattering Video of Venezuelan Minister Has Reporter in Hot Water


EspañolOn January 8, NTN24 correspondent in Venezuela Ana Vanessa Herrero spoke out against threats she received after publishing a video interview with Food Minister Yván Bello concerning shortages in the country.

Despite the alleged harassment from ruling party supporters on social media, Herrero continued to share her video interview with Bello on Twitter, in which the minister shrugs off the long lines Venezuelans face at grocery stores.

Don’t waste your time calling to threaten me. I won’t stop publishing the video that has hurt the food minister so much.

In the video, Herrero confronts the minister on the reports that Venezuelans have had to wait in line for “up to six days” to find increasingly scarce products. Bello called the claim an “exaggeration” and replied, “When I go to a baseball game, I also have to wait in line: to buy a ticket, to eat an arepa, to enter the stadium.”

After publishing the interview, Herrero claims government officials denied her access to other events. The Maduro administration has struggled in recent weeks to contain a worsening food shortage crisis. While the Venezuelan Central Bank has not published scarcity figures since August, unofficial sources claim the shortage has reached 70 percent.

In 2014, the press-freedom NGO Reporters Without Borders documented 34 cases of Venezuelan journalists arrested, and 134 others threatened or harassed. According to the NGO, Venezuela is now the world’s most dangerous country for press workers after Ukraine.

Moreover, the Press and Society Institute (IPYS) recorded at least 30 instances of state censorship in 2013. A survey the IPYS conducted in 2014 revealed one-third of reporters in Venezuela believe the government censors them directly.

In addition, businessmen with alleged ties to the ruling party have been buying up news companies in the country since 2013. As with the Últimas Noticias Group and El Universal, buyers have used shell companies in Spain, Panama, and United States in their acquisitions, making it difficult to identify the true owner.

“There’s a new kind of censorship in Venezuela: instead of shutting media down, they buy them,” says Silvia Alegrett, former president of the National Journalists College and head of the NGO Free Expression. “In each of the media outlets purchased in 2013, there has been layoffs, forced resignations, and censorship.”

Venezuelan Restrictions 2.0

Despite the lack of traditional, independent media outlets, the Nicolás Maduro administration is currently experiencing the worst government approval rates in 20 years.

Beyond traditional outlets, the national government has also sought to restrict access to the internet and block foreign news channels from broadcasting in Venezuela. The administration has taken an active role in social media as well, flooding social networks with pro-government messages, and even creating a Vice Ministry of Social Networks to promote its image.

In February 2014, in the wake of a student protest at the General Prosecutor’s Office where two people were killed, President Maduro blocked cable news channel NTN24 from broadcasting.

The Colombia-based network was among the few covering the protest, while Venezuelan networks ignored the events in downtown Caracas. The February 12 demonstrations sparked a wave of protests that lasted four months, and resulted in 43 people dead and hundreds still in custody, such as opposition leader Leopoldo López.

Venezuelans also lost access to most of NTN24’s content on the internet. While the network’s website is not accessible in the country, Venezuelans can still view Bello’s statements on NTN24 through YouTube and Twitter. NTN24’s television channel is only available in certain parts of the country through the satellite service provider DirecTV.

Censorship of the internet has extended to other parts of the network as well. State-controlled internet service providers — including the country’s largest, CANTV — have blocked access to over 100 websites. Venezuela also has one of the slowest average internet speed connections on the continent.

Detained over Tweets

Censorship has also given way to arrests. In October 2014, sarcastic tweets regarding the murder of PSUV legislator Robert Serra landed several people in jail.

The Venezuelan police arrested at least six “Twitter terrorists,” as President Maduro described them. Inés González (@inesitaterrible), a young woman famous for her harsh tweets, amassed 66,000 followers as a result of the episode.

Despite a court order for her release in November, González remains in a SEBIN prison, often without any outside contact for weeks at a time. In her last tweet, González mocked the officers that brought her in for interrogation. The account has been inactive for over three months.

I’m taking some time away from Twitter. Tonight I’ll let you know where the party will be, and I’ll be waiting for you there, if you’re so brave.

While censorship continues, defiant hashtags like #AnaquelesVaciosEnVenezuela (Empty Shelves in Venezuela) and #ChavistaEresCompliceOPendejo (Chavista, You’re an Accomplice or an Idiot) gain popularity in the country. On Wednesday, January 7, Maduro commented on the rising discontent expressed through social media. “They would have you believe that Venezuela is a broken country,” said the president.

Translation by Daniel Duarte.

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