Venezuelans defy censorship to broadcast their own news bulletins - from their balconies
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Since late 2019, a group of citizen newscasters have been roaming the streets of a Caracas neighbourhood in Venezuela to “broadcast” their own news bulletins as a way to share important local information and get around the strict media censorship. However, when the country went into lockdown in mid-March, they had to come up with a new plan. So recently they’ve been delivering their news bulletins… from windows and balconies.
In late 2019, a group of newscasters began broadcasting their own news bulletins in the streets of La Cruz, a working-class neighbourhood in Caracas. To deliver the day’s news, a citizen newscaster would perch on a small stand, behind a black rectangle meant to represent a television. The newscasts are only “broadcast” live in public spaces, they aren’t available online.
Periodismo comunitario, descripción gráfica ???? pic.twitter.com/k632UGcRWvLa Cruz TV (@LaCruzTVCaracas) February 6, 2020
A citizen newscaster deliver news bulletins in the streets of La Cruz before lockdown.
The team behind "La Cruz TV" is made up of activists who work in media, the audiovisual sector and communications. Their first project, launched in 2017, was called "Bus TV". They would drive their bus around to different locations around Venezuela and invite people to watch them perform their own news bulletins.
>> READ ON THE OBSERVERS: Venezuelan activists launch TV news in buses to bypass censors
The activists aim to get information to people who have little or no access to the internet and social media and thus, uncensored information. In Venezuela, online content is much less controlled than in the traditional media, which is subject to strict government censorship. Venezuela was ranked 147th out of 180 countries in the press freedom index published by the NGO Reporters Without Borders in 2020.
"Our ‘televised news bulletins’ always start with local news, which can be extremely useful for people”
Laura Helena Castillo is one of the founders of "Bus TV". She told our team how they came up with the idea to keep on broadcasting local news from their windows and balconies after La Cruz went into lockdown. They’ve started referring to the project as "La Ventana TV", which means “Window TV”.
When lockdown began, at first, we were worried because we’ve always carried out our projects in the street, in close contact with people, and we had to stop it all. So, we decided to try and develop other activities that would allow us to respect social distancing measures.
We did our very first news bulletins from our windows in mid-May. We got this idea because we had seen how balconies had become a space for expression in Europe during lockdown, allowing contact with the rest of the world. People were singing, playing music and applauding…
¡Estamos de vuelta! ????La Cruz TV (@LaCruzTVCaracas) May 16, 2020
Darío, el "megáfono" de La Cruz, invita a su comunidad a escuchar el noticiero de hoy ???? pic.twitter.com/7BzzRxFnoe
The very first window news bulletin was delivered in mid-May. In this video, you can hear someone saying, “This afternoon, starting at 4pm, La Cruz TV will be broadcast from the balcony of our neighbor, Mrs. Rosa Elena Marrobo."
This is how we prepare each news bulletin. Two residents of the neighbourhood, Darío Chacón and Marilín Figuera, gather local news from around La Cruz and then pass it on to the "Bus TV" team. We take a look at it and then add it to a script that we’ve drafted, including other, more general news (about politics or the economy, for example). Then we send the script back to Darío and Marilín.
Then, Darío dresses up in an elegant outfit and reads the news bulletin into a microphone from one of the balconies in the neighborhood while Marilín films him [Editor’s note: even though these videos are never posted online]. Different people in the neighbourhood offer up their balconies. We’ve also rented a speaker from one of the neighbours so that people in the neighbourhood can hear.
"Testing, hello, hello, testing… ‘La Cruz TV’ has a project during quarantaine that’s called ‘La Ventana TV’", says Darío Chacón in this video.
Each news bulletin lasts about seven minutes. It always starts with local information, which is really useful for people. Currently, a lot of the news is about coronavirus, but the topics vary immensely. For example, sometimes we do a portrait of someone who just died. Other times, we might share information about the price of fish… the idea is to reach people who have little or no access to the internet or independent media and to get around censorship.
"Today is May 16, 2020. We’ve been in quarantaine for 61 days in Venezuela. What’s happening in La Cruz? The sale of proteins, vegetables in La Cruz were a major help for the community during quarantaine", says Darío Chacón in this video.
We knew Darío Chacón before launching "La Cruz TV": he was nicknamed the ‘megaphone’ in the neighbourhood because he’d often call out useful public information. We trained him a few months ago. [Editor’s note: This is a video of Darío from back in January.] Marilín joined the project in the middle of lockdown so we haven’t been able to train her fully yet.
For the time being, we’ve only done three news bulletins from the windows. We had to stop everything for more than two weeks because a woman in the neighbourhood was suspected of having Covid-19. So we didn’t want Darío or Marilín to take any risks. But we’d like to do two “televised news bulletins” a week, which was our rhythm with La Cruz TV.
"Three balconies, three episodes of La Ventana TV"
The start of a “televised news bulletin” presented on a balcony.
Lastly, we’ve also been hanging up flyers in La Cruz with information about coronavirus, including useful telephone numbers (hospitals, clinics, pharmacies, psychological support, help for women who are victims of domestic violence), political and economic information. It’s also something we’ve been doing in other neighbourhoods and other towns so that people are better informed.
These flyers provide information for La Cruz residents.
Article by Chloé Lauvergnier.