For much of the last month, Venezuelan streets have been awash with demonstrators. The economy there shows signs of collapsing and inflation is at a record high. Many are going hungry, lacking access to the basics such as clean water and medicine.

With almost 40 protesters killed in the past few weeks, a lot of the news coverage comes down to the laying of blame. The official government narrative goes that right-wing media are trying to force a foreign intervention, while demonstrators are accusing President Nicolas Maduro of trying to subvert democracy by suppressing the media.

Maduro's predecessor, Hugo Chavez, spent much of his presidency at war with conservative news outlets. He blamed some of them for backing an attempted coup against him in 2002, which they did, on air. Chavez made changes on the broadcast side - both regulatory and related to ownership. Maduro has continued that trend with print outlets. But even formerly friendly voices in the news media are starting to turn against the Maduro government.

Journalists are the victims of this situation, not the aggressors.

Vladimir Villegas, host, Globovision

More and more journalists say they cannot report freely for mainstream news outlets and have ended up working online, using new platforms such as the messaging app Telegram to get the story out.

However, the emergence of something like 300 new, digital news sources over the past few years has done little to bridge the political gap. It turns out that Venezuelans are just as divided online as they are on the streets.

"With Chavez, there was coexistence and confrontation. With Maduro came the media monopoly," says Cesar Batiz, editor-in-chief of El Pitazo.

That information void really hits home when Venezuelans turn to their televisions in search of news. The nationwide demonstrations started in March when the National Assembly was shut down by the Supreme Court - which was followed by opposition calls for fresh elections.

The six weeks of marches and street clashes since have attracted a certain kind of news coverage in the mainstream media - selective and one-sided.

"Fifteen days after the protests broke out, we started monitoring the three main television channels; Televen, Venevision, and Globovision. We found some similar characteristics in the coverage. The channels gave more airtime to government spokespeople criticising the demonstrations than to voices from the opposition," says Batiz.

"And when they were covering a government-organised march, they gave airtime to government spokespeople and to the people marching."

Globovision was an openly anti-government channel until 2013, when it was sold to Juan Domingo Cordero, an insurance tycoon close to the government. Then it announced a change to its editorial line - moving to what it called the "centre".

People such as Vladimir Villegas, leftist voices, were hired by Globovision. But even they have grown critical of a government they had long defended. Villegas and the channel must watch their words. The Minister of Information - who happens to be Villegas' brother - has delayed the renewal of Globovision's licence. If they push it too far, the channel could be off the air.

"Globovision is trying to get a diversity of opinions. Before, the channel was a political party with a camera. But now if you compare us against the old Globovision you will find a big difference. Our dilemma, however, is this: do we keep this space or do we adopt a heroic posture and get shut down, and this window gets closed?" says Globovision host Vladimir Villegas.

"State censorship as such doesn't exist. Why doesn't it exist? Because the government has good media support from radio, printed media, social media that defend the government agenda," explains Maryclen Stelling, director, Global Observatory of Media in Venezuela.

"So what does indeed exist is self-censorship."

Contributors:
Maryclen Stelling, director, Global Observatory of Media in Venezuela
Vladimir Villegas, host, Globovision
Cesar Batiz, editor-in-chief, El Pitazo
Odell Lopez, journalist, Servicio de Infomacion Publica

Source: Al Jazeera