The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The country's first newspaper, the Gaceta de Caracas, appeared in 1808, shortly after the arrival of the first printing press and just before the war of independence. The Gaceta de Caracas, published by a small group of young intellectuals who advocated a complete break with Spain, presented lively and well-informed discussions of the new political theories emanating from Europe as well as of local news. Around the time of independence and shortly thereafter, a number of newspapers appeared in Caracas, and by 1821 the Correo Nacional was being published in Zulia.

These papers emphasized serious political discussions, establishing a tradition that continued during the ConservativeLiberal controversies of the mid-nineteenth century. The literate population of the time, however, was small. With extremely limited readership and often extremely small budgets, many of these newspapers disappeared after a few initial, enthusiastic issues. An exception was La Religión, founded in 1890 and still published in 1990.

From early on, Caracas was the undisputed center of influence and the home base of the most significant newspapers. Maracaibo was a strong center for publication of newspapers, but their circulation and impact were still regional in scope. Whether in Caracas, Maracaibo, or the provinces, newspapers depended heavily on direct and indirect government and/or partisan subsidies. Government advertising, in addition, represented a substantial part of the papers' income.

Only a few families owned and controlled the largest dailies. Family members usually held top administrative positions and often contributed articles. Perhaps the most prominent of these families were the Capriles, who owned a chain of morning and afternoon dailies, in addition to magazines and radio and television interests.

All the major parties maintained official party newspapers, most of them weeklies. Some parties, especially those of the extreme right and extreme left, published newspapers without necessarily identifying their true ownership and control. Organized labor, business, and other major political and economic groups all traditionally produced their own weekly or monthly publications.

Most observers agreed that the Venezuelan media were often sensationalist, and that they exhibited a healthy dose of skepticism toward grandiose government plans. Newspapers and journalists assiduously pursued corruption stories and exposed cases of unbridled nepotism, corruption, and incompetence. Venezuela's press was subject to censorship in times of emergency but was otherwise among the freest in Latin America. About the only consistent taboo was the publication of cartoons or other graphics that denigrated the national hero, Simón Bolívar Palacios.

The major Caracas newspapers in 1990 included Últimas Noticias, an independent newspaper with a daily run of 320,000 copies; Meridiano, with 300,000 copies; and El Mundo, El Nacional, and Diario 2001, all independent dailies with a circulation of approximately 150,000. El Universal, which used to be among the top Caracas dailies, had fallen to a circulation of 140,000 by 1990. Still influential, though of much smaller circulation, were Panorama and La Crítica of Maracaibo and El Diario de Caracas. The Daily Journal, an Englishlanguage newspaper in Caracas, had a print run of about 20,000 copies.

Venezuela had no domestic news agency, but several foreign agencies maintained offices in Caracas, among them the Italian News Agency (ANSA), Associated Press (AP) and United Press International from the United States, Reuters from Britain, and TASS from the Soviet Union. The Ministry of Transport and Communications regulated broadcasting; the Venezuelan Chamber of the Broadcasting Industry (Cámara Venezolana de la Industria de Radiodifusión) exercised oversight functions. Most of the country's approximately 180 radio stations were commercial, but the government did operate the Radio Nacional network. The country had 6.7 million radio receivers in 1986 and approximately 2.8 million television sets. Both government and commercial companies operated television stations. The Venezuelan government took advantage of this extensive radio and media network to inform its people, particularly those who lived far away from major urban centers, on educational, agricultural, and civic matters. Stations were concentrated in Caracas, but transmitter were found throughout the country.

Probably more so than elsewhere in Latin America, television was an established medium. The country had five television stations: two owned by the government, two commercial, and one directed by the Roman Catholic Church. Telecasts began in 1953 on the government-owned Televisora Nacional. The first private commercial station, Venevisión, opened a few months later, followed by another private station, Radio Caracas Television. These two became national networks and were soon joined by the government-owned Venezuelan Television Network and a station directed by the Roman Catholic Church. All had excellent facilities and generally broadcast programs of high quality. Television continued to be extremely popular at all social levels and to represent a status symbol for the rural and urban poor.

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