Media group accuses Venezuela of 'strangling' newspapers

A media rights watchdog accused the Venezuelan government Tuesday of financially strangling the country's newspapers by restricting their access to imports of supplies necessary for publication.

The Inter American Press Association commented in the wake of a weekend announcement by El Impulso that it would be cutting both the number of its pages and the use of color due to a lack of production materials.

The editorial claimed that, despite 11 months of complaints, the paper has been unable to get a government green light to gain access to foreign currency to buy essentials such as newsprint, ink and printing plates.

Instead, it faced "official silence," according to the Miami-based IAPA.

IAPA official Claudio Paolillo called the apparent development a "convenient double morality of the government of President Nicolas Maduro, a kind of programmed shortage."

It was also a "crafty and hardly creative manner of silencing the independent and critical voices in the country," he added in a statement that accused the government of "financially strangling" local newspapers.

Tight currency controls enacted in 2003 make it tough to get dollars for international purchases. But last year the government made it even harder to get newsprint and other supplies not produced locally by requiring them to get a special license.

The result, especially for small regional newspapers, has been editions with fewer pages, a less frequent publishing schedule, or even no paper at all.

In previous remarks last month, Paolillo -- who heads IAPA's press freedom committee -- said the licenses "are contrary to the free flow of information that should prevail in a democracy."