Attack on Venezuela Newspaper Highlights War on Media

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Gunmen opened fire on a newspaper headquarters in northwestern Venezuela, the third attack against a local media outlet in a week, worrying evidence of an increasingly brazen war against the press in the crime-ridden state of Zulia.

During the attack, which took place at around midnight on June 3, one or more gunmen reportedly fired nine bullets from a moving car at the headquarters of Version Final newspaper in Maracaibo, Venezuela’s second-largest city.

“We were leaving at the time,” said a source who asked not to be identified, reported EFE. “I was on duty when I heard the shots. Two of them hit the gatehouse of the newspaper headquarters, but nothing happened to the guard there because the glass is bulletproof. Another two shots hit an interior door and others against the front wall.”

This was the third assault against a Zulia-based media outlet in a week, with similar attacks carried out against the Que Pasa newspaper and the Catatumbo TV station.

InSight Crime Analysis

While critics of President Hugo Chavez accuse his administration of stifling the media by abusing its regulatory powers or by presenting trumped-up criminal charges against media workers, there is little reason to suspect the state is behind this rash of attacks. The government has previously tried to limit media coverage through legal means; what’s more, the Catatumbo TV network is linked to the state. As such, there may be reason to suspect organized crime is behind the attacks.

This is a worrying sign for Venezuela, where press freedom has long been a major concern, as with other countries in the region. According a 2011 report by democracy advocacy NGO Freedom House, Venezuela has witnessed a “gradual erosion” of press freedom in recent years. The report notes that while journalists are rarely killed, intimidation and harassment are commonplace.

The relatively low number of journalists killed in Venezuela means the country has a long way to go before it approaches the levels of violence against journalists currently seen in Mexico, which has been called the most dangerous place in Latin America to be a journalist, or Colombia. According to Reporters Without Borders’ press freedom index, Venezuela is far safer for journalists than either of these countries. But while nobody was killed during these recent attacks on Venezuelan news outlets, it is still an alarming trend.

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