BOGOTA, Colombia – The perils of the truth during authoritarian rule are forcing Venezuelans to adapt and improvise. Community journalists are relying on loudspeakers to deliver local news that the neighborhood can use.
The news bulletin reminded neighbors that they will be reporting the local results of COVID-19 tests via text message. Chacon and Figuera have been doing community service for more than a year.
“The community has been receptive,” Chacon said in Spanish, adding it is fulfilling to keep people informed.
According to Reporters Without Borders, embattled Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro frequently references “media warfare” to discredit journalism and his harassment of independent media has steadily intensified since 2017.
Maduro’s censorship effort includes the use of internet service providers’ ability to block specific content. The government has blocked Virtual Private Networks, or VPNs, and temporarily turned an advocate of digital freedom into a political prisoner.
Most recently, his administration ordered VPItv, a Miami-based digital news service, to cease operations in Venezuela where the correspondents operate. Agents raided VPItv offices in Caracas and confiscated internal documents, computers, and equipment.
“They just went there, started talking with our workers, and they took everything,” said Gabriela Peroso, a spokesperson for VPItv, adding that the future of about 100 VPItv employees in Venezuela remains uncertain.
The Committee to Protect Journalists denounced the Jan. 8th raid as the latest government’s move to silence the few remaining independent voices in Venezuela. With the support of Russia and China, Maduro already controls the military, congress, and the judicial system.
Before the coronavirus pandemic, Juan Guaido-led opposition used social media to report the health and education systems were in shambles, there were food and medicine shortages, mass unemployment, hyperinflation, and corruption.
The few reporters who are left in Venezuela regularly self-censor to avoid the government’s “administrative measures” through the feared Telecommunications National Commission, or CONATEL.
Chacon and Figuera keep the local news bulletins short and place a handmade “papelografo,” or poster, on a wall with the updates. The Bus TV network started to use word of mouth in public transportation and has expanded to other public areas.
Torres contributed to this report from Miami.