Coverage of street demonstrations is an exceptionally dangerous assignment, with journalists subject to assaults, obstruction, detention, raids, threats, censorship orders, and confiscation or destruction of equipment. This report is one in a series of three by Getty photographers who documented for CPJ their recent experiences covering protests and shared their photographs.
By John Moore/Getty photographer
I spent two weeks in Venezuela covering the daily protests against the country’s high inflation and soaring crime. These protests have rocked that country for the past months. Venezuela is extremely polarized, with roughly half the population in opposition to the leftist government of President Nicolás Maduro, who succeeded Hugo Chávez after his death a year ago.
During my visit, I covered the almost-daily street marches, sometimes with tens of thousands of people. In Caracas, the marches were largely peaceful early in the day, with many middle- and upper-class professionals taking part. Later, in the afternoon, the protests were usually led by university students, who provoked confrontation with National Guardsmen. The students threw rocks, and the security forces responded with water cannons, tear gas, and rubber bullets.
Photojournalists–as usual, in conflict zones–were especially vulnerable to injury because of our proximity to the action. Often, National Guard troops fired tear gas canisters directly at the protesters and, consequently, at us as well. There was also a danger from the rock-throwing students, who had varying levels of accuracy with their throws, with large stones often landing on fellow protesters and photographers.
I was taken in for questioning by military intelligence one day, after covering a one-year anniversary parade for the death of Hugo Chávez. I was detained by soldiers, driven to a military facility, and questioned by a non-uniformed colonel for about an hour. As an American, I was viewed with suspicion–to say the least–and he didn’t trust my press credentials. I urged them to confirm my identity with the government press office, which they finally did, and I was released.
I was told they hoped that the interrogation would not color my view of the government. The colonel said they needed to be careful about threats to Venezuelan national security.