Mapping Venezuela’s shrinking radio landscape

Venezuelans navigate an information desert amid COVID-19, humanitarian & political crises

By CPJ Central & South America staff and Coral Negrón, CPJ Patti Birch Fellow for Data Journalism

As the COVID-19 pandemic spread rapidly around the world, few countries were already in such a state of humanitarian crisis as Venezuela. The precarious nature of its economy and society extended to the information landscape—in large part due to a decade-long effort by Venezuelan authorities to force radio stations off the air.

Under the late President Hugo Chávez and his successor, Nicolás Maduro, the Venezuelan authorities have cracked down ever harder on the country’s independent media, amid a larger campaign to repress political dissent and human rights activists. The Committee to Protect Journalists has documented the implementation of a raft of restrictive measures, as well as the arrest and harassment of journalists, that have left the Venezuelan media weakened and in decline.

In August 2009, the Chávez regime canceled the licenses of 32 radio stations in a single day, touching off a wave of closures over the next decade through overt censorship and other factors.

According to data compiled by Venezuelan press freedom group Espacio Público and shared with CPJ, 180 radio stations that provided news and information went off the air between 2009 and 2020. The vast majority of cases are straightforward shutdowns by authorities, who pull stations off the air for a myriad of alleged violations, such as breaching legal provisions or expired licenses. In other cases, local authorities purposely cut off power. Some stations were pushed off the air due to a lack of basic services, such as persistent power outages and shortages of gasoline for staff to go to work.

Photo captions:
People hold placards during a rally on World Press Freedom Day in Caracas, Venezuela, on May 3, 2016. (Reuters/Marco Bello)
A woman takes part in a protest outside CNB Radio headquarters in Caracas, Venezuela, on August 1, 2009. (Reuters/Jorge Silva)
A man walks near graffiti reading, “The people die from hunger,” in Caracas, Venezuela, on August 21, 2018. (Reuters/Carlos Garcia Rawlins)
A university student, with his eyes and mouth covered with a red cloth, shouts slogans during a protest in Caracas on January 25, 2010. (AP/Fernando Llano)
A woman wears a gag and chain, and holds a microphone, during a rally on World Press Freedom Day in Caracas, Venezuela, on May 3, 2016. (Reuters/Marco Bello)
A soldier rides in an armored vehicle during a military exercise in Caracas, Venezuela, on February 15, 2020. (Reuters/Manaure Quintero)
Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó stands next to soldiers as they speak to the media at Generalisimo Francisco de Miranda Air Base in Caracas on April 30, 2019. (Reuters/Carlos Garcia Rawlins)
Demonstrators take part in a protest against the government of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro in Caracas on March 31, 2019. (Reuters/Carlos Garcia Rawlins)
A Venezuelan resident in Colombia holds a sign during a protest in front of the Venezuelan consulate in Bogota, Colombia, on April 30, 2019. (Reuters/Luisa Gonzalez)
A woman cries at the CNB Radio headquarters in Maracaibo, Venezuela, on August 1, 2009. (Reuters/Isaac Urrutia)