The morning of the 28th of May 2008 in Venezuela, all torn eyes were focused on the closing of the tv-station RCTV (Radio Caracas Television). Since the black-out of the screens that night, it was clear to many that the Latin American country had lost one of their last pieces of freedom of the press. After that day, it all went down like a ball of snow going downhill, up to today where none of the screens in the country show any of the massacres that happen on the streets and newspapers don’t get any more paper to print the stories of famine and children dying from a common flue because of the lack of medicines
Ever since the institution of Chavez’s successor and current president, Maduro, journalism has been suffering more and more. Many journalists from renown news companies like CNN and AFP (Agence France Presse) were robbed of their equipment to be silenced resulting in many of them never coming back or exiled after receiving a prohibition to enter the country. Venezuelan journalists like many of the citizens of the country have been forced out of the territory not only by criminality, hunger and the medical crisis, but also to be able to fulfill their job and continue to inform the population.
“Our job went from informing to not giving up”
Venezuelan journalists not only have the calling to inform about everything the government’s channels fail to mention but also to keep their people informed no matter what. After the cutting of signals of channels like CNN en Español by the government, various tv stations made a transition, and they started to transmit their programs through the internet. This allowed citizens to know what was going on and also it was a way for the outside world to see what was happening outside those press releases from the government. An example of this type of channels is VIVO PLAY, an online channel that not only gives different channel signals for free but also offers a free live feed of the protests against the government.
The sound of death
I sat with Alexandra (56) a Venezuelan mother that left her career and country behind to look for a better life for herself, but most importantly for her family. Living in Belgium and informing yourself about current events in Venezuela has proven to be a challenge, that’s why she thanks, many platforms that offer ‘exiled’ citizens the option to watch the news and their favorite programs. “It is very important that these platforms allow journalists to keep doing their job, for the Venezuelan people”.
Through the whole interview, she was clear that the freedom of speech had left the country long time before Maduro, ex-president Chavez’s successor and the current president, came to power. Yet, the most impactful moment for her and many Venezuelans was the forced closing of the national channel RCTV. She told us about that day with tears in her eyes: “The moment all the Venezuelans saw the screens go dark it was the same feeling you get when somebody dies, a big silence, but this time it was all around the country. On that moment we realized it was the last time we were going to see the truth. It was very sad”.
A signal to keep you close to home
Channels that are also available online, like VIVOPLAY, are a source of information for the Venezuelans living in the country but also for those who left because of the crisis. For many, leaving home wasn’t the first choice. “Staying home meant I had to cope with a lot of restrictions because of the situation. While leaving was no easy choice, I had to do it for my future so maybe, a few years later, I could come back and rebuild the country as a professional”, Juan (21) a Venezuelan student in the U.S. described. This type of internet channels gives the opportunity to those living outside the country to still feel like they have a piece of their home. Many of these platforms employ journalist faces that belonged to the closed channels or voices from the radio everybody heard on their way to work before the government shut the stations down
Yelitza is a Venezuelan who left her home to live in the U.S because of the situation in Venezuela. The current media situation has a great impact on her life, especially now that she’s far away from home and her loved ones. “It affects us a lot, information was already limited and I have relied on social media to inform myself about the situation in the country and what my family is going through”. Social media has become her main source of information, together with a few websites that have platforms in which you can read or see what’s going on. “I don’t trust the information that the government provides. Social media is wrong 60% of the time, but it’s all we’ve got”. She still tries to connect with her family and her home by watching the programs that are available online, “It’s a way of not losing that connection with your country and knowing what the people back home are going through”.