Venezuelan Newspaper El Universal Sold to Undisclosed Buyer

Caracas-based newspaper El Universal, which has been criticized by President Nicolas Maduro for its editorial line, has been sold.

“The sale has taken place, but we’re not allowed to say who the new owner is for now in order to comply with a confidentiality clause,” the paper’s Editor-in-Chief Elides Rojas said today in an e-mailed response to questions.

The newspaper, founded 105 years ago, was previously owned by Venezuelan businessman Andres Mata and is the third private media company to be sold in Venezuela since former President Hugo Chavez died from an undisclosed type of cancer last year. The Globovision television network, which was critical of the government, was sold last year and has since stopped airing live speeches by opposition Governor Henrique Capriles.

The new president of El Universal, Jesus Abreu Anselmi, told reporters at the newspaper that the new owner has “no connections to the government” and that editorial line would not be changed, according to a statement published on El Universal’s website today.

Cadena Capriles, a newspaper chain that includes Venezuela’s best-selling daily Ultimas Noticias, was sold last year to undisclosed buyer. The El Nacional newspaper, another Caracas-based broadsheet, said in February that Venezuela’s government denied it access to auctions for U.S. dollars and reduced pages because it was unable to import newsprint.

Editorial Lines

El Universal reduced its daily edition to two sections of eight pages on May 5 after saying in a statement on its website that the government was delaying dollar supplies to buy paper abroad.

The newspaper will have paper to operate, Abreu Anselmi told reporters today, according to the statement.

Venezuelan journalist Nelson Bocaranda, who reported on Chavez’s health before the president died on March 5, 2013 and is frequently criticized by Maduro, is a columnist for El Universal.

“Since Globovision and Cadena Capriles were sold, their editorial lines have become more favorable to the government,” Carlos Correa, director of the Caracas-based non-profit organization Espacio Publico that promotes free speech and press freedom, said today in a telephone interview. “In both cases, journalists have left after being asked to be careful in reporting issues that can affect the government’s image.”

The Information Ministry press office didn’t immediately respond to a telephone call and e-mail seeking comment on freedom of press in the country.

Maduro is struggling to improve an economy with the world’s fastest inflation and is facing the worst growth prospects outside Equatorial Guinea, according to the International Monetary Fund.

Annual inflation in Venezuela hit 61 percent in May after the government carried out the biggest devaluation since currency controls were instituted in 2003 with the introduction of an alternative currency supply system in March.

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