Report to the 74th General Assembly
October 19 to 22, 2018
Salta, Argentina

This period has been one of the hardest for the media and independent journalists, with the aggravating factor that the closure of newspapers in various regions and the cyber-attacks against news portals perpetrated by the government through public and private entities continue.

The laws and institutions - such as the National Telecommunications Commission (Conatel), the judges and the Supreme Court of Justice (TSJ), remain as the weapons of the political regime to disrupt social and individual freedoms.

The government is rushing for a new Constitution that will seek approval by the illegitimate National Constituent Assembly (ANC). By the announcements it goes without saying that the new Constitution will be the first cousin of the Cuban one, imposed 60 years ago in Cuba.
These three five-year periods have shown that this progressive process is carefully managed, diversified, calibrated and adjusted. The exodus of more than 2.4 million Venezuelans was not only imposed and stimulated by the regime to reduce costs and social expenditures - from education to health, but also to create severe problems in the host countries.

The persecution, harassment, aggressions and exodus also affect foreign correspondents, humorists, twitterers who communicate "public" events such as the route of the presidential plane, or communicators who broadcast videos and/or comments that displease the regime.

Despite the dictatorship, the independent media and society resist and don't resign themselves to being informed by Telesur and VTV - the government television stations.

The outlook for independent media, especially for the thriving newspaper industry of previous periods, is bleak. According to the NGO Espacio Público, 51 media stopped operating in the country last year due to sanctions, economic problems and lack of inputs such as newsprint -which is monopolized by the state.

The newspapers El Oriental and La Verdad in Monagas are only kept in digital version; El Falconiano, La Prensa de Barinas, Versión Final in Zulia ran out of paper in May despite being transformed into a weekly; El Impulso de Barquisimeto, the evening newspaper Diario de Lara, or La Región in Miranda.

In Sucre, La Región was the last of the newspapers to stop circulating. Sucre is now the only state in the country without print media.

Other newspapers no longer circulating are El Clarín de La Victoria in Aragua, Las Noticias de Cojedes, Última Hora in Portuguesa - which ran out of paper in August, as well as El Tiempo de Trujillo, which circulated for 60 years and is now published in digital version.

Other newspapers have had to move to a weekly frequency, such as: El Sol de Monagas, El Sol de Margarita, El Tiempo de Puerto La Cruz; Los Andes de Trujillo, Notitarde in Carabobo and Visión Apureña.

Among those who reduced circulation days - in addition to the El Nacional newspaper, are El Siglo in Aragua, La Nación in Táchira, La Verdad de Vargas, La Prensa, and El Periódico de Monagas, La Prensa de Lara, El Regional in Acarigua, and in Falcón, the Nuevo Día newspaper changed from tabloid to half letter size on glacé paper in order to keep active.

The editorial "¡Hasta pronto!" - last editorial of the Los Andes Newspaper (DLA) of the state of Trujillo as a daily newspaper - reflects the uncertainty and also the hopes of the journalistic industry.

On August 11, the daily El Nacional announced that it would not circulate on Mondays or Saturdays. El Nacional joined a large number of newspapers in Venezuela that restrict their circulation to just five days a week, as a paper-saving measure. The newspaper highlighted the support of other newspapers in the American continent thanks to which it keeps circulating, since it does not receive newsprint from the Alfredo Maneiro Publishing Complex (Ceam) - an institution created in 2013 by the government of Nicolás Maduro, which centralized its sale. El Nacional added that it will continue to "circumvent the mechanisms of asphyxiation, lawsuits, fines, sanctioning measures, and censorship via internet blockages.

After the dismemberment of the traditional journalistic industry, in recent years the government has fine-tuned its aggressions against citizens' freedom of access to the internet and against the flow of information by attacking native news portals such as La Patilla or El Pitazo, as well as the digital platforms of traditional media such as El Nacional web. Precisely these three media have been the last victims of the digital censorship in the country. Unlike the rest of the blockages, these have been unilateral from the state-owned Cantv.

Internet blockages revealed a new form of censorship. Internet users find it more difficult to consult news content in the digital environment via fixed connection services (Aba CANTV) than via mobile. In June this was seen in two episodes of censorship on the net that affected the news portals La Patilla and El Nacional, which were done without any judicial order or any formal explanation on the part of the teleoperators.

On June 21, the National Assembly's Commission on People's Power and the Media received technical reports from the representatives of several news portals, which showed the alleged participation of private mobile phone companies in blocking their websites.

The Press and Society Institute (IPYS) denounced the existence of a new form of censorship on internet. The "non-responding" to a connection attempt is a new modality of blockage by HTTPS against web portals operating in the country. IPYS adds that the blockages to portals are intermittent and points out that among private operators, Digitel, according to 2018 data, led the results of digital censorship with a frequency of 70% in impediments to access the pages. IPYS indicated by way of example that the El Nacional portal suffered a HTTPS blockage that prevented Cantv, Movilnet and Movistar users from accessing the page.

Access to the information portals of La Patilla, El Nacional, Tal Cual, El Pitazo, Run Runes, and others is becoming increasingly difficult, because the government-controlled systems to block and filter internet content are broader. The most common attacks: denial of service, multiple access attempts and domain blockages.

The regime's dream is to have a North Korean-style internet system: an intranet in which only those who have a password and the trust of the leadership would have access to news from the outside world. Maduro would prefer no news or internet interconnections unless they are used at governmental level. Eighteen years after beginning the "process" of institutional pulverization, the regime -even though it censors the internet, has also turned internet into an essential support tool, as an information carrier for its more than 700 media - guarantors of the "communication hegemony" and propaganda.

Other relevant facts:

On May 3, the Press Workers Union (SNTP) denounced the closure of seven print media since January: El Oriental (January 15), La Verdad de Monagas (January 15), El Tiempo (January 25), El Impulso (February 10), La Región de Oriente (February 28), La Prensa de Barinas (March 2) and Versión Final (March 19).

The SNTP said that the seven print media closures add to the 40 that have closed since 2012 "due to the government's refusal to facilitate access to the resources and raw materials needed to maintain production. "
In April, Diosdado Cabello - vice-president of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), lost his legal battle against The Wall Street Journal. A federal judge in Manhattan dismissed a defamation suit filed by Cabello against Dow Jones & Co., ruling that the official failed to show that a 2015 newspaper article about a money laundering and drug trafficking investigation contained falsehoods about him.

On May 22 Conatel opened an investigation against El Nacional web. Conatel accused the newspaper of publishing information that "failed to acknowledge lawfully constituted authorities", in relation to President Nicolás Maduro's re-election, unacknowledged by the opposition and several countries. El Nacional has appealed the sentence.

On June 6, Diosdado Cabello won a lawsuit against El Nacional. The court accepted "the lawsuit for moral damages filed by Cabello against the newspaper" and ordered the newspaper to pay "the sum of one billion bolivars." The amount is equivalent to $12,500 according to the official currency exchange, but only $600 in the black-market. In 2015, Cabello sued El Nacional for "defamation and insult" after de publication of a report from the Spanish newspaper ABC that linked him to drug trafficking. Cabello had said that if he won the lawsuit he would give El Nacional to the employees, which the newspaper considered a threat of expropriation. "It will become the workers' newspaper (...) so that the truth can be told", he said. Cabello also tried to file lawsuits against ABC in Spain, but his lawsuit was dismissed.

On July 1, IPYS published a report on Conatel's lack of response on granting operating permits to 40 broadcasting stations. They all closed.

On July 31, a cyber-attack took the Crónica Uno page off the air. The page denounced the attack through its account on the social network Twitter.

On August 4, Conatel censored the documentary "The Flight from a State" by the German channel Deutsche Welle (DW) about Venezuela. The Spanish-language channel was removed from cable operators and Intercable kept DW suspended from the grid for a week, adding to the international channels taken off the air by the government, such as CNN, NTN24, etc.

On August 11, two journalists from Tachira working for Reuters - Anggy Polanco and René Méndez, were detained for three hours by members of the Bolivarian National Guard.

An August 14 report by Espacio Público pointed out that between January and June 2018 there were 161 cases/situations in which the right to freedom of expression was violated, representing a total of 219 violations of this right. An increase of 11% over previous years.

On August 20, several organizations demanded the country's vice-president, Delcy Rodríguez, the release of twitterer Pedro Jaimes Criollo, who was arrested on May 10, 2018 and taken to the headquarters of the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service (Sebin), the Helicoid, for sharing in his Twitter @Aereometeo account the route of the presidential aircraft - which was public information. On May 12, the court charged him with the crime of revealing secret state information. The relatives were allowed to visit the detainee only 80 days later. The criminal record is secret and goes on without Jaimes Criollo's ability to choose his defense. Criollo is considered a "prisoner of conscience" by human rights organizations.

On Aug. 31, a Caracas court sent independent photographer Jesús Medina Ezaine Medina to prison. He was arrested on Aug. 29 after working on a hospital complaint project and charged with several crimes including incitement to hatred.

On Oct. 9, Conatel ordered the cancellation of the program "Gente de Palabra," broadcasted by the private radio station Unión Radio. The move followed comments that there were no "fair elections" in the country, in reference to the presidential elections in May.