The Pitfalls and Perils of Being a Digital Journalist in Venezuela

The Pitfalls and Perils of Being a Digital Journalist in Venezuela

Mariateresa Garrido (University for Peace, Costa Rica)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-1298-2.ch017

Abstract

To be a journalist in Venezuela is very dangerous. In the past decade, there has been an increase of attacks against media and their personnel. On the one hand, attacks against journalists include harassment (physical, digital, legal), illegal detentions, kidnapping, and assassination. On the other hand, digital media have experienced blockages (DNS), internet shutdowns and slow-downs, failures in the connection, and restrictions to access internet-based platforms and content. Since 2014, the situation is deteriorating and limitations to exercise the right to freedom of expression have increased. However, this issue remains understudied; hence, this chapter considers primary and secondary data to analyze the types of limitations experienced by Venezuelan digital journalists from 2014 to 2018, explains the effects of ambiguous regulations and the use of problematic interpretations, and describes the inadequacies of national policies to promote freedom of the press.
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Introduction

Despite the fact that UNESCO or the Committee to Protect Journalists does not consider Venezuela as one of the most dangerous countries in the world to exercise journalism, is far from being a safe place (CPJ, 2019; UNESCO, 2019). International organizations such as Amnesty International and the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights have constantly denounced limitations experienced by journalists which, among others, include harassment (physical, digital, legal), illegal detentions, kidnapping and assassination (Amnesty International, 2019; Inter-American Commission of Human Rights [IACHR], 2017b). In fact, because of the increasing number of attacks against media and their personnel, the organization Freedom House rates Venezuela as not free (Freedom House, 2019).

In 2019, these attacks against the press have increasingly focused on the emerging digital media outlets, which have become the target of the majority of the attacks (Ipys Venezuela, 2019); but this is no new. In the past five years, international organizations have been constantly denouncing this behavior. In 2014, the IACHR indicated that two digital journalists were detained; four journalists received threats through Twitter and Facebook, and state-owned Internet Service Providers (ISP) impeded access to several digital media outlets (IACHR, 2015). The same year, Freedom House indicated that by mid-2014 at least 400 websites disseminating economic and political content were blocked without following any legal procedure (Freedom House, 2014). Those practices continued, and in 2018, Freedom House added to the list of limitations Internet shut-downs, failures, restrictions to access social media, illegal detentions, and attacks against journalists (Freedom House, 2018).

One could think that those constrains to exercise the right to freedom of expression are caused by the lack of regulations, yet, that is not the problem in Venezuela. The legal framework exists. The National Constitution, for example, guarantees the right to freedom of expression, and laws adopted in the last decade seek to promote it. The Venezuelan problem is that laws do not meet international standards on clarity and proportionality (Ipys Venezuela, 2018). The terminology used allows discretionary interpretation and application; which favors the implementation of the state communicational hegemony.

With this scenario, it is necessary to analyze the causes and consequences of this policy for journalists’ safety and for the exercise of the right to freedom of expression. Therefore, the purpose of this chapter is to analyze the impact of the implementation of the state communicational hegemony on the type of limitations experienced by Venezuelan journalists, the effects of ambiguous regulations in the implementation of protection mechanisms, and the inadequacies and gaps of national policies to promote freedom of expression and freedom of the press. Yet, because limitations are directly linked to the type of medium used (Mitra, Garrido, Høibe, forthcoming), and to a specific period, this chapter only focuses on journalists who work for digital media outlets and their experiences between 2014 and 2018.

The chapter begins with the theoretical framework and methodology of the study and that is followed by four main sections. The first section provides a brief explanation of the Venezuelan context. It considers some of the situations faced by traditional journalists that fostered the transformation of the Venezuelan media landscape and the use of Internet-based platforms (i.e. verbal and legal harassment, closure of TV and radio stations). Situations included in this section are presented in a descriptive manner and in chronological order to demonstrate the evolution of the attacks, restrictions experienced by journalists between 2014 and 2018, and the existence of a dangerous environment for the exercise of the profession and the right to freedom of expression.

The second section describes the type of threats experienced by Venezuelan digital journalists, while the third section analyses how the legal framework tolerates violations to the right to freedom of expression and limits the possibilities of digital journalists to exercise their profession in a safe environment. The final section assesses how the implementation of national policies impede journalists from operating in a safe space and provides some recommendations to improve their situation based on the comparison of the answers given by journalists and the current legal standards.

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