A new blow to freedom of expression in Venezuela: Main media outlets are silenced and attacked in Táchira



At least three of the main media outlets in Táchira States have suffered cyber attacks in recent months, a situation that got worse last week when the social media accounts of Diario La Nación, Táchira Noticias and Diario de Los Andes were blocked, and in addition there are threats to block the new news accounts to which journalists have been forced to migrate and reinvent themselves after the closure of print media and broadcasting stations.

Luz Dary Depablos // Correspondent LaPatilla.com

The news silence in this Andean state has been noticeable in recent days after the Instagram (IG) accounts of local news media with the greatest public interaction were blocked, and since the networks became the most immediate window for Tachirenses (people of Táchira) to access information in a timely manner, since access to print media is increasingly limited with less circulation and less content. Very few print media still survive.

A week ago, the team of Diario La Nación celebrated having reached 300,000 followers and becoming the medium in Táchira with currently the most audience on IG, where the content prepared by a group of renowned journalists was published. However, this Sunday afternoon the account was blocked.

“We don’t know what caused this because we haven’t received a report, they don’t tell us why. If it’s because we violated some rule,” said Omaira Labrador, Director of Diario La Nación, who still doesn’t know the reason for the takedown of their account.

Ms. Labrador considers that this is an attack against the freedom of information. “Although it is a social network, it is an account with a lot of interaction. A very worked account, there are 42,000 posts, and 300,000 people who follow us. There are more than eight years of work and strategies on that account that got us to be where we are,” she emphasized.

She also pointed out that the right to work, the right to access information and a social network of a 54-year-old media outlet are being attacked. “We are busy getting our account back and then taking action to determine if this was a massive attack by a group of people who didn’t like a post, or if we broke a rule.”

Although they have the alternative account of @LaNacionRadio. This account does not have the same reach, since it is an account that is just starting up right now.

It should be noted that a Twitter user recently showed an image referring to the blocking of local media IG accounts and threatening to block of other Táchira news accounts, for which the director of Diario La Nación said that, “We don’t know if this is a coincidence or an attack, or if these people are looking for attention to show that they are able to close accounts at will.”

Similarly, María Eugenia Alviarez, Director of the “Táchira Noticias” account, which has been blocked twice, expressed concern about the situation that has been occurring for several days with news accounts in the region.

“A little over a year ago we had an IG account with more than 450,000 followers, that account suffered an attack, unfortunately we could not recover it at that time, we started an alternate account and because we had created the brand this helped with the new username we were able to reach more than 178 thousand followers in months, which also again suffered an attack 12 days ago. Thank God we managed to contact some people, we managed to send some messages, we managed to send some data through to IG and we managed to recover it,” explained the journalist from Táchira Noticias.

She alerted the National College of Journalists and its followers that this situation has so far only been reported in Táchira State, where people who do not identify themselves on the networks threaten news media accounts with hacking. Likewise, an account that is managed by people who do not identify themselves, copied our brand and are now posting unverified information under our name.

She also stated that “without a doubt, it becomes a computer crime for those who are committing this type of action and again restricting the freedom of expression of many journalists who have reinvented ourselves to try to keep people informed, not only the people of Tachira, but also Venezuelans who live in the rest of the country and abroad.”

“Diario de Los Andes” In Táchira, Mérida and Trujillo States Was Also Silenced

Diario de Los Andes (DLA) also joins the list of IG informative social media accounts that were blocked. For decades this means of communication in the Andean states has been characterized by showing the people’s complaints, their problems, in communities and also their protests.

“It is a window that closes, it seems that we do not exist because it is a news media that stopped appearing on paper in Táchira, Mérida and Trujillo states. Approximately up to a month ago we appeared only as a weekly, but only in Trujillo. Many people believed that, because we had stopped appearing on paper and because there was only web presence or appeared on a multi-platform, they thought that we had disappeared,” said Mariana Duque, coordinator of DLA in Táchira.

The DLA social media account had become the main information window in the three Andean states, which had more than 100,000 followers, but three months ago it was hacked and finally eliminated by IG.

“This is a constant war, a fight to show people that we are alive. Now bulletins are created with the news that are being published and distributed through WhatsApp groups in our states, also on twitter. It is a taxing effort because wherever we try to get in, they hit us,” said the journalist.

Mariana Duque, indicated that, “before it was @diariodlosandes, now we have become @Diario.losandes, and of course it is quite difficult to grow that way, that affects us since all what we did, the videos, the news were seen by more people, now there are fewer registered views.”

“As a journalist I feel that this is an attack on freedom of expression, those of us who have alternate accounts are also being followed from ghost accounts, that is, they do not have photos, they are people with new accounts, recently created, who do not have any followers, do not have publications and of course, who are they? Now they are the same ones who created alternate accounts to report and delete credible accounts. IG has its rules at the international level and does not realize that this is an attack in a particular area,” said Mariana Duque.

“The most unfortunate thing about the blocking of these accounts, mainly from DLA, is that part of the history of the three Andean states of Venezuela was lost. Records of news events were lost, which in some cases were unique and exclusive content.”

On the other hand, Lorena Arraíz, representative in Táchira of the Institute for Press and Society (IPYS) and the National Union of Press Workers (SNTP), pointed out that in this state at least 10 stations stopped going on air.

“According to those affected, they received calls and visits from “Conatel” (Maduro’s regime communications regulator) where we were told that they should stop operating because we did not have the necessary regulatory permits. Given this, we turned off our equipment for fear that they would be confiscated,” she said.

Ms. Arraíz, also clarified that there has been reservation on the part of the owners, because “they fear that they will not be granted the guarantee that allows them to continue operating if they report this situation.”

Therefore, in Táchira, access to truthful and timely information is increasingly limited, since added to the blocking of news media accounts and closure of the media, censorship is maintained to access the main sources that depend on the Governorship of Táchira State and the Mayor’s office of San Cristóbal.