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CNN en Espanol, Media Under Siege as Unrest in Venezuela Continues

Anchor leaves country as Maduro government cracks down on news, Internet

The media remains under siege in Venezuela as anti-government street protests continue to escalate. CNN en Espanol anchor Patricia Janiot, a former beauty queen from Colombia, abruptly left the country Friday after allegedly receiving threats from the local government, Venezuelan press union SNTP reported. CNN declined to comment but confirmed that Janiot was back in Atlanta and reporting on her experience Friday on-air. CNN en Espanol’s correspondent in Venezuela, Osmary Hernandez, confirmed on her Twitter account that all CNNE and CNN Intl. special envoys to Venezuela have had their press credentials revoked.

Despite the revoked credentials, both CNN en Espanol and CNN Intl. continue to broadcast in Venezuela.

Venezuela President Nicolas Maduro threatened on Thursday to expel CNN from Venezuela unless it “rectified its coverage” of the recent demonstrations and has ordered his administration to begin the process of blocking CNN’s signal in the country. In response, CNN en Espanol has countered that it has reported in an “accurate and balanced manner.”

With local television networks, radio stations and even newspapers effectively stifled by the Maduro government, most Venezuelans have been relying on YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and other social media to get uncensored information. How reliable these unfiltered sources are is open to debate.

Last year, the last Venezuelan opposition-leaning TV network still broadcasting, Globovision, was bought by a government crony. Colombian regional news network NTN24 was pulled off the air and its Internet feed blocked in Venezuela for its uncensored reports. Radio stations are mostly mute about the riots with one or two exceptions, such as Radio Caracas, the sister radio station of the defunct RCTV, shut down in 2007 by the late President Hugo Chavez for alleged insubordination.

Last Tuesday, a CNN crew was robbed at gunpoint while covering the street protests. As CNN’s Karl Penhaul described it, a group of armed thugs on motorcycles surrounded him and his crew after they rammed into a group of anti-government protesters. “Next thing I knew, I was staring down the barrel of a chrome-plated 9mm pistol and three armed men then proceeded to rob our crew of all the camera gear and all the transmission gear as well,” he reported. “It’s an example of the rising political tension and the difficulty of covering this story on the street.”

Newspapers not toeing the line have seen their paper supply restricted, forcing some to close down or in the case of broadsheet El Nacional, cut down the number of sections in the paper.

Amid the rampant crime and rocketing inflation (officially at 56%), shortages are not only in paper but also in bread, flour, meat and toilet paper. At least six people have died in the unrest, including a beauty queen in the town of Valencia.

Meanwhile, even the Internet is under siege. Twitter reported that Venezuela had blocked live images on it service on Friday while U.S. company Zello said that state-run telco CANTV had blocked access to its popular “walkie-talkie” app, widely used by protesters worldwide to organize their marches.

In response to the intrepid social media reporting of citizens, “(the Venezuelan government) turns off the Internet and the electricity, and sends in its troops, as it did in the state of Tachira yesterday,” said Russ Dallen, publisher of Latin American Herald Tribune. “These are not the actions of a legitimate democratic government.”

Meanwhile, celebrities led by Madonna, Ruben Blades, Juanes and others have declared their support for the protestors.

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