The Venezuelan government and CNN's Spanish language service clashed for a final time on Feb. 15, when state authorities issued an official order to remove the channel from cable and satellite TV stations.
CNN says the order is a response to its story “Passports in the Shadows,” which where the network presented evidence that that Venezuelan consular staff illegally sold visas and passports to Syrian and Iraqi citizens.
When issuing its order, Venezuela's National Communications Commission (Comisión Nacional de Comunicaciones, or CONATEL) did not specify the broadcast that prompted its crackdown, but censors did accuse CNN of “distorting the truth” and inciting “external attacks”:
Tal procedimiento obedece al contenido que viene difundiendo [CNN en español] de forma sistemática y reiterada […] contenidos que [pueden constituir] agresiones directas que atentan contra la paz y la estabilidad democrática de nuestro pueblo venezolano […]
Puesto que sin argumento probatorio y de manera inadecuada difaman y distorsionan la verdad, dirigiendo las mismas a probables incitaciones de agresiones externas en contra de la soberanía de la Republica Bolivariana de Venezuela
This decision is the result of content that [CNN in Spanish] has been systematically and repeatedly disseminating. […] Content that [could constitute] direct attacks that threaten the peace and democratic stability of our Venezuelan people […]
This is due to the fact that without convincing arguments they inappropriately defame and distort the truth, leading to probable incitement of external attacks against the sovereignty of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.
The blowback on social media has been significant, especially after CNN in Spanish announced that it would broadcast for free on YouTube. Many Internet users have described this move as a perfect mockery of the government's censorship attempt:
— Reporte Ya (@ReporteYa) February 16, 2017
Even those who didn't watch CNN will watch it now, and for free. Thank you CNN in Spanish for your dedication to Venezuela.
Others have welcomed the move against CNN, expressing concerns about the consequences of some of the network's broadcasts, like the story “Passports in the Shadows.” Coverage like this, critics say, justifies suspicions that CNN was fomenting support for a foreign invasion of Venezuela.
Facebook user Luigino Bracci Roa posted the following message online:
Compas, yo sé que lo de CNN puede parecer un exabrupto. Pero, ¿a ustedes les pareció poca cosa el programa “Pasaportes a la sombra” que transmitió Fernando del Rincón la semana pasada? Estaban acusando a Venezuela de VENDER PASAPORTES de forma masiva a “terroristas” de Hezbollah, para hacer un ATENTADO A ESTADOS UNIDOS […]¿A USTEDES LES PARECE ESO POCA COSA? ¿No recordamos lo que le pasó a Irak y Libia? Al margen de si Trump pueda iniciar o no un ataque contra Venezuela, igual es necesario reaccionar contra ese tipo de matrices de opinión.
Friends, I know that the CNN measure might seem like an overreaction. But did you think the program “Passports in the Shadows” broadcast by Fernando del Rincón last week was no big deal? They were accusing Venezuela of SELLING PASSPORTS en masse to Hezbollah “terrorists,” to carry out an ATTACK ON THE UNITED STATES […] DOES THAT NOT SEEM LIKE A BIG DEAL TO YOU? Don't we remember what happened in Iraq and Libya? Quite apart from the question of whether or not Trump might initiate an attack against Venezuela, it's still necessary to react against these kinds of smears.
Another blow to the freedom of expression
For many Internet users in Venezuela, the government's actions represent just the latest attempt to censor the media and restrict the availability of news reporting:
— Eduardo EDO Sanabria (@edoilustrado) February 15, 2017
EDO cartoon for @ElNacionalWeb: Find the 4 differences. They kicked out CNN.
While CNN has promised to circumvent Venezuelan television by streaming for free online, CONATEL has also announced plans to limit the network's Internet signal. Another large obstacle will be the country's generally slow Internet connection, which is an important component of national censorship and affects more than just CNN.
In fact, Venezuelans have some of the slowest and most precarious Internet connections on the continent.
The problem becomes even more complex when you consider Venezuela's complicated foreign currency exchange controls. Telecommunications companies in the country say the scarcity of dollars affects the quality of service and the companies’ livelihoods. In April 2016, telecom companies complained that foreign currency funds vital for paying connection service providers took 18 months to be approved.
The same companies also say limitations on purchases and imports make it difficult, if not impossible at times, to maintain the equipment needed to operate.
CNN's departure from Venezuelan screens further reduces the number of channels providing information that is independent from the Venezuelan government. The vast majority of Venezuelan media outlets have been nationalized, bought by entities linked to the governing party, or they reduced their informational content in order to survive the political pressures of Chavismo.
While this appears to be the end for CNN on Venezuelan television, it's hardly the first time the network and government have clashed. The cable news network undoubtedly has its flaws, but even a biased news outlet offers virtues in a system as closed and dominated by the state as Venezuela. Unfortunately, even that trace of plurality bites the dust with the decision to kick CNN off the airwaves.