NGO: Venezuelan gov’t continuing crackdown on independent news sources

Caracas, Feb 18 (EFE).- Four online Venezuelan outlets that offer independent news coverage have joined the ranks of blocked websites in that South American country over the past two weeks, according to the non-governmental organization Espacio Publico.

It noted that on Feb. 1 the Venezuelan NGO VE Sin Filtro reported that digital medial outlets Cronica.Uno, Efecto Cocuyo and EVTV were inaccessible via the country’s main Internet service providers, including the biggest one – state-run CANTV.

Then on Feb. 12 internauts were blocked from viewing the online edition of Venezuelan daily El Nacional, a frequent critic of leftist President Nicolas Maduro’s administration.

That latter move occurred just days after the Supreme Court handed over the newspaper’s main offices to Diosdado Cabello, the No. 2 figure in the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV). Those headquarters were seized after the paper failed to pay Cabello more than $13 million as part of a civil defamation case.

“Most of the main Internet service providers blocked access to El Nacional, an important news outlet, just two days after Diosdado Cabello threatened to ‘go after El Nacional’s website,'” Espacio Publico said in a statement.

It added that online access to at least 35 media outlets was cut off at the end of 2021, including during the regional elections in November.

That NGO’s director, Carlos Correa, told Efe that this silencing of opposition voices began at least a decade ago but that “temporary website blocks” muddy the picture.

“Around 10 years ago, we’d already documented more than 3,000 blocked websites,” he said. “Now it’s very difficult (to state a precise figure) because there are websites that are blocked today but not tomorrow,”

VE Sin Filtro said the website blocks typically are carried out by order of the Conatel telecommunications regulator, although no official notice is given of these measures nor the reasons why users are unable to access those pages.

Correa said a policy is in place to thwart citizens’ ability to stay informed, particularly about news investigations into alleged corruption.

On Feb. 9, Venezuelan independent news website TalCual said it had become the target of a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack after publishing a story about a party that was held on top of a tepuy, a table-top mountain located in a national park in the southeastern state of Bolivar, and allegedly organized by business leaders linked to Maduro’s administration.

That media outlet’s content editor, Victor Amaya, said on Twitter that the DDoS was carried out via an “unusual amount of requests coming from IPs controlled by CANTV” and crashed its server.

Attacks like that one are carried out by third parties, according to Correa, who said Espacio Publico is demanding that the government investigate who was behind it and what the motive was.

One outlet that is addressing the lack of independent media in Venezuela is El Bus TV, a group of reporters who deliver the news to bus passengers.

Through that media initiative, launched in 2017, “anchors” who are assisted by a colleague who holds up a cardboard frame to simulate a TV set read out the news, not all of which shines a favorable light on the PSUV.

Those reporters also deliver free copies of their newspaper, Enterate, to the bus passengers and residents of low-income neighborhoods in Caracas as part of their mission to ensure people’s right to information in an increasingly challenging context. EFE


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