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Paper-Thin Free Press

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Paper-Thin Free Press

Article excerpt

Venezuelan President Chavez uses currency controls to starve critical newspapers of the newsprint they require to publish

"Freedom of the press," journalist A.J. Liebling wrote back in 1960, "is guaranteed only to those who own one." But, in the face of a vigorous and critical press, Venezuela President Hugo Chavez has figured a way around that guarantee: Last month, he imposed currency controls that effectively deny newsprint for those hostile printing presses.

Because there are no domestic mills, Venezuela's newspapers must import all their newsprint -- which takes dollars. In the economic chaos of Chavez's "Bolivarian revolution," newspapers have been unable to buy newsprint since November. In January, the foreign-exchange market was closed and complex currency controls were imposed that permit businesses to convert their weakened bolivars only to buy some 6,000 "importable" items.

Newsprint doesn't make the list, although paper for book manufacturing does. At their current rate of consumption, newspapers nationwide will run out of newsprint by the end of this month, Miguel Otero, director of the daily El Nacional in Caracas, said two weeks ago.

Chavez survived a bitter national strike that began Dec. 2 and ended in February. Many papers enthusiastically supported the strike, and as a show of support refused to publish in its first days. Publishers say the currency controls are Chavez's revenge.

"President Hugo Chavez has said that such curbs are to be used as tools to reward and punish, that there will be no dollars authorized for 'coup-mongers' or for companies that joined a national strike, that import of newsprint is not a priority, and freedom of speech will be restricted," AndrEs Mata Osorio, editor of the daily El Universal in Caracas and regional vice president of the Inter American Press Association, said at IAPA's midyear meeting in El Salvador last month. …

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