Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro increasing pressure on the county’s last private news channel has prompted six senior journalists to leave the company in protest of what they say is a shift in Globovision’s editorial direction.
The reporters and television anchors left in response to the “abrupt, violent and aggressive” departure of creative director Leopoldo Castillo earlier this month after 12 years with the company. The president has been accused of meddling with editorial matters at the media conglomerate.
The “conditions for conducting free journalism are absent from Globovision,” Roberto Giusti, former host of talk show “33 Degrees,” told Bloomberg BusinessWeek.
Globovision is Venezuela’s most watched news channel and was a frequent target of attack by late Venezuelan Socialist leader Hugo Chávez, who branded the station as one of the “four horsemen of the apocalypse” for its role in a 2002 failed coup attempt against him. Since its sale back in May to three owners of Caracas-based insurance company Seguros La Vitalicia, the company’s editorial policy and coverage has changed dramatically.
The channel has ended six news and current affairs programs, let go of 14 journalists to date and stopped airing the speeches of political opposition leader Henrique Capriles.
“Globovision has been a window for the country to have information in real time that's different from that of the government," wrote Capriles in May after being informed that the channel’s new board of directors allegedly banned his speeches from being broadcast live.
In a statement on Globovision’s website last week, company Chairman Raúl Gorrín attempted to deflect the allegations made by former employees and said that the channel is committed to “the most diverse ideas and opinions, presented with respect and tolerance.”
The news of the departures signals the growing threat to free press in Venezuela, where independent journalism has been stifled, first under the Chávez government and now with Maduro.
“For journalists trying to find their way in Venezuela, it is very difficult right now,” Sonia Schott, Globovision’s Washington D.C. correspondent from 2002 until the sale of the company back in May, told Fox News Latino. “There is no way for journalists in Venezuela to work freely right now.”
Schott, who has not been in contact with Globovision's new management, added that she is concerned about the physical and job security of her colleagues working in Venezuela.
"In Venezuela, it is difficult to escape from the pressure to cover stories the way the government wants them covered," she said. "You are always cornered to take a side. There is no objectivity."
Some press freedom activists have drawn a comparison between Venezuela’s current situation and that of the press consolidation conditions in Russia when President Vladimir Putin came into office. When the Russian leader took power for the first time in 2000, he soon went about dismantling independent media and using wealthy friends to buy up opposition media groups.
This is what you’re seeing now in Venezuela,” said Arch Puddington, the vice president for research at the watchdog group Freedom House. “Things are not moving in the right direction in Venezuela.”
For journalists in Venezuela, while the country’s major media outlets may be succumbing to the pressures from the government in Caracas, there are still other outlets available to them. Many journalists who have left Globovision and other Venezuelan media organizations have begun relying on blog and social media sites like Facebook and Twitter to spread their stories.
“Quitting may be the only option if you feel the new management has been as disturbing as it appears,” Puddington said, “However, social media can now serve as an alternative to the official press.”
Follow Andrew O'Reilly on Twitter @aoreilly84.