Venezuela print shortage threatens newspapers

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Venezuela’s newspapers are struggling -- and some closing -- as new restrictions have limited the import of newsprint, a trend some say was engineered by the government to silence opposition media.

The result, especially for small regional papers, has been a shorter paper, a less frequent publishing schedule, or even no paper at all.

Since last week, “eight Venezuelan newspapers have closed because they have no newsprint,” journalist and professor Eduardo Orozco, said Friday at a forum in Miami, calling it “just another weapon” to block the flow of information.

“The mainstream media, with more resources and large stocks, can make direct purchases. The most vulnerable are the provincial papers, which rely on importers,” said Carlos Correa, president of a free press NGO called Public Space.

“The government should make access to foreign currency transparent, in order to buy supplies,” he said.

Tight currency controls enacted in 2003 make it hard to get dollars for international purchases. And last year, the government made it even harder for newspapers to get newsprint and other supplies not produced locally -- they must get a special license.

But the process of getting and using the licenses is cumbersome at best, said Edgar Fiols, director of the Graphic Arts Industrial Association, adding it can take up to four months to get foreign currency.

The licenses “are contrary to the free flow of information that should prevail in a democracy,” said Inter-American Press Association press freedom committee chairman Claudio Paolillo.

They have primarily affected small papers, he added, which in many cases are the primary source of news for their local readers.

In a statement issued from the group’s headquarters in Miami, Paolillo said it was “inevitable to think the import licenses were being used intentionally to muzzle the press,” Paolillo said, urging the government to lift the requirement.

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