(Sabrina Martin) “The only newspapers who are complaining of paper shortages are the independent media. In Venezuela, the right to be informed is at stake,” says Carolina González, editor in chief of Venezuelan daily El Carabobeño.
Her outlet is on its last legs: paper stocks are enough to print one month more of coverage of the central region of Venezuela. When it runs out, over 1000 direct and indirect jobs will be at risk.
On Friday, April 24, El Carabobeño resorted to its paper reserves for the Sunday magazine to print the regular edition, as the last sheet of normal paper used to print the 81-year-old publication went on the presses.
At least 25 media outlets have been sold in the last five years, including nationwide publishing houses such as Cadena Capriles, Grupo Últimas Noticias, and El Universal, according to areport released by the Press and Society Institute of Venezuela. The issue is particularly acute as only a fraction of Venezuelans have access to internet access at home: online media can only take up a portion of the shortfall.
Five Venezuelan newspapers are currently on the brink of turning off their presses. The PanAm Post interviewed González to discuss how the lack of newsprint is affecting independent media in Venezuela.
Why has the newspaper not been able to purchase paper?
Until last year, we imported the paper. Earlier in 2014, we requested government authorization to purchase foreign currency, and they granted it, so we placed an order with our supplier. But when the government came to process the operation, they refused it. That left us exposed to an enormous debt with our Canadian paper supplier.
When the government started impeding us from purchasing foreign currency, we were forced to buy from the only company in the country that sells this kind of paper, the government-runAlfredo Maneiro Editorial Complex. It’s the only company that the government clears to import paper.
El Carabobeño held negotiations with the company in August, and by November we’d reached an agreement. At the end of 2014, they sent the first shipment of 150 paper reels, and the following shipments of 44, 48, and 72 paper reels, which lasted until April 23 — the last day we printed the daily on its regular paper.
We are at a crossroads. If we don’t get new paper deliveries we will only have supplies left for one month, up until around June 7.
The situation is grave. This daily was founded amid a dictatorship and survived it. Now, during this era of 21st-century socialism, we’ve been facing hindrances, even preventing us from buying paper, which is the raw material of our work.
What has the Maneiro Editorial Complex told you?
They say they don’t have paper, but we know they were importing paper until last February. We know that there’s a foreign-currency problem, and increasing foreign debt, but paper has never stopped being delivered to the country. Now it’s being imported via a new government-run company called Corpovex, which is centralizing all foreign trade.
As this company continues to claim to experience paper shortages, it will act based on its priorities, and a newspaper with the editorial line of El Carabobeño won’t be a priority for a state-run company for sure. Maneiro’s priority is to feed the pro-government newspapers.
Here in Valencia we have a state-run daily called Ciudad Valencia, which is being run by the Minister of Information and Communication. They’ve just announced that they will expand the number of pages of their editions, so why can Ciudad Valencia increase its size while El Carabobeño is running out of paper?
With this government, it’s always been “you’re with us or against us.” Maneiro should continue delivering paper to Ciudad Valencia, but it should also guarantee it to the other outlets in the region. We’re the only daily in the region with an independent editorial line that has denounced this situation.
As your paper supply runs out, what are your next steps in order to continue informing people?
One alternative is to decrease the number of pages again, after originally reducing it to 16. Even with a single-page edition, we will continue circulating. We are betting on Maneiro eventually fulfilling its task.
If the government decided to impose a monopoly on the distribution of paper, it should have known what they were doing. Because they didn’t take safety measures, it’s us who are paying the price, not them.
There were more paper distribution companies here, but they shut down due to Maneiro’s monopoly. Those were the companies that the outlets with no capacity to import paper would buy from. So, now there is no more paper, and our hands are tied.
Why do you think El Carabobeño in particular is facing such shortages?
This has to do with our editorial line. Maneiro only delivers shipments to those they consider priorities. If we’re not getting paper, it’s because they don’t like our line. We don’t do government promotion, we denounce wrongdoing, we analyze, and when there are good things to say, we say them. But generally, we’re not a pro-government outlet.
Did the owners think about selling the newspaper?
Before selling, they would rather close it. The selling option is not on the table, because the owners understand that media companies are different: they not only have an economic obligation but also a commitment to freedom. It would be a very tricky situation to sell an outlet when one does not know which editorial line will be adopted or what other changes are going to be made.
Why is the editorial line so important?
The issue of freedom of expression is crucial. If we lose that right, we’ll keep struggling against the same problems, but we won’t be aware of it. The lack of independent media in the country will result in the disappearance of investigations and lead us to believe that we live in a fantasy world.
And I repeat, those facing problems with paper distribution and complaining against it happen to be the independent media alone. In Venezuela, the right to be informed is at stake.