The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

Storied Venezuelan newspaper sold as independent media comes increasingly under pressure

  • Print

CARACAS, Venezuela - One of Venezuela's oldest and most prestigious newspapers has been sold amid increasing government pressure on independent news media.

The editor in chief of Caracas-based El Universal, Elides Rojas, confirmed that a group of Spanish investors had bought the broadsheet from the family that has run the paper since it was founded 104 years ago.

While neutral reporting in Venezuela is hard to come by after 15 years of polarization over socialist rule, El Universal has stuck closer than most to the ideal of fact-based, investigative reporting amid a crackdown on media outlets that, like it, have been fiercely critical of the government.

Rojas acknowledged apprehension in the newsroom about whether the paper will follow in the steps of other recently sold news media outlets that have softened their editorial line, but said he had been assured that the paper's editorial independence would not be compromised.

Partly driving those concerns was the appointment of Jesus Abreu, a former bank manager who is the brother of the famed director of Venezuela's government-funded system of youth orchestras, to lead the paper and its 850 employees.

On Friday, El Universal employees gathered for a meeting with their new manager. Reporters say Abreu told them that they had been bought by the Spanish company Epalisticia, but deflected most questions about the new owners. After the meeting, reporters hurried to look the company up, but found a scant digital footprint.

President Nicolas Maduro and his predecessor Hugo Chavez have driven most independent journalism from airwaves, using fines and the revocation of licenses to silence critical voices.

Meanwhile, a newsprint shortage combined with government harassment of journalists and media it accuses of plotting its overthrow has made the task of running a Venezuelan newspaper increasingly unappealing. Rumours have been circulating for more than a year that the Mata family, which has run the broadsheet since its founding in 1909, were looking to sell.

In May, El Universal announced that it would cut the size of its daily editions because of the newsprint shortage. The paper now publishes 16 pages a day, down from 24. Circulation has dropped, and newsstands almost immediately sell out of what copies are available.

In the past year, more than a dozen Venezuelan papers have closed or reduced their print editions because of a lack of dollars to buy newsprint. Venezuela's government has restricted access to foreign currency for 11 years.

The last television station broadcasting criticism of the government, Globovision, was sold in 2013 after being fined $2 million for its coverage of a prison riot. Three local businessmen with no prior media experience bought the channel, which immediately stopped broadcasting opposition news conferences and rallies.

Meanwhile, the government has increased the number of state-run TV channels. The newspaper chain that includes Venezuela's most-read daily, Ultimas Noticias, was also sold last year and saw many of its prize-winning investigative reporters resign in dismay.

Government control of television news has gotten tighter since an opposition protest movement broke out in February. At the height of the protests, Maduro expelled CNN and the Colombian channel NTN24 because of their coverage, which it said was slanted and was fueling violence.

For now, freedom of expression watchdogs are waiting to see whether the Spanish buyers turn out to have government ties.

"If the result of the sale is that El Universal changes its tone to become a pro-government outlet, that's something that would really be a concern, because it's a newspaper that is providing a lot of criticism at a time that the broadcast (media) is dominated by official views," said Carlos Lauria, Americas director of the New York-based Committee for the Protection of Journalists.

The union representing El Universal workers said that so far, management had not provided enough information to allay their doubts.


Follow Hannah Dreier on Twitter:

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes


  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.


Make text: Larger | Smaller


Willy wants to get back to winning

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • Geese fight as a male defends his nesting site at the duck pond at St Vital Park Thursday morning- See Bryksa’s Goose a Day Photo- Day 08- May 10, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
  • BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS  070527 The 21st Annual Teddy Bears' Picnic at Assiniboine Park. The Orlan Ukrainian Dancers perform on stage.

View More Gallery Photos


Are you worried Ebola might make its way to Canada?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google