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Venezuelan crisis comes with censorship, mounting death toll

Media networks face criticism as Maduro tightens control

CARACAS, Venezuela – While news outlets in Venezuela stay in business under the threat that the government could shut them down, the opponents of President Nicolas Maduro were protesting what they say are inaccurate reports of the country's unrest. 

Maduro expelled CNN and NTN24 after the 2014 deadly protests. The three private stations that were left to report the anti-Maduro protests that began about six weeks ago in March are Globovision, Televen and Venevision. Venezuelan telecommunications regulator Conatel is watching them closely. 

Marco Antoima, a journalist who has been with Venevision for more than a decade, was fired after demanding fair reporting, according to Venezuela's Colegio Nacional de Periodistas on Saturday. His dismissal followed a marched to the Venevision station in Caracas this week.

Journalists working in Venezuela are managing the pressures of dealing with their employers, facing government reprisal and dealing with the complaints of protesters. While most Venezuelans rely on social media for information, Conatel director Andres Mendez is focused on regulating digital media.  

Cesar Batiz, editor-in-chief of El Pitazo, an alternative website with reporters nationwide that was founded in partnership with the Instituto Prensa y Sociedad and Trapiche Films, believes the censorship that began with the late President Hugo Chavez was getting progressively worse. 

"With Chavez, there was coexistence and confrontation," Batiz told Aljazeera. "With Maduro came the media monopoly."

Government officials advised against broadcasting live footage of the ongoing protests and censored the term "repression," according to a Globovision employee who recently spoke to Reuters. Earlier this month, protesters doused a team of Globovision employees with gasoline and vandalized their car. 

 

 

While both Maduro's supporters and opponents criticize the ongoing reporting as misinformation and propaganda, Maduro continues with his plans to rewrite the 1999 constitution. Friday was the deadline for candidates to register for the July election that will choose 545 delegates to the special convention.

Maduro's opposition ruled out participating, as the U.S., Colombia and several other foreign governments condemned his proposal for a new charter as anti-democratic. The opposition believes Maduro is avoiding democratic elections, because he knows the socialist government would lose. 

Maduro designed a system to select the  delegates from among his loyalists. He ordered that two-thirds of the delegates be selected at a municipal level and the remaining delegates from workers’ unions and community councils.

First lady Cilia Flores as well as the foreign minister and other top aides will lead a slate of candidates competing for seats in the special assembly. Party leader Diosdado Cabello said he would resign his seat in congress to be eligible to run as well.

"Any participation in this process is an act of complicity with the constitutional fraud and whoever partakes will be declared a cohort of the fraud, coup, repression and assassination of Venezuelans who have fallen in the peaceful protests for the sole reason they were exercising their legitimate right to demonstrate," the opposition Democratic Unity alliance said in a statement.

Authorities have linked more than 60 deaths to the ongoing protests in Caracas and other major cities nationwide to demand democratic elections. During the 2015 congressional elections, the candidates of Maduro's opposition took 57 percent of the popular vote nationwide.

On Thursday, Chief Prosecutor Luisa Ortega Diaz, who broke with the government amid its crackdown on protesters, filed a brief with the Supreme Court questioning the legitimacy and purpose of the constitutional assembly.

“This sentence is a step backward for human rights,” Ortega said, referring to the high court’s decision to rubber stamp Maduro’s plans to forego a national referendum asking voters whether they even wanted to rewrite the constitution.