MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
Last year, Venezuelans suffered from a shortage of toilet paper. Well, now thanks to government bureaucracy, another kind of paper is in low supply, newsprint. As John Otis reports, that's forced some Venezuelan newspapers to trim their size or, worse, stop printing all together.
JOHN OTIS, BYLINE: Venezuelan newspapers import nearly all their newsprint. But due to government currency controls, securing dollars to buy that paper can take months. Reserves of newsprint have fallen to an all-time low. Four newspapers have been forced to stop publishing and many others have reduced their size and circulation. Journalist Miguel Enrique Otero claims Venezuela's socialist government is provoking the shortage.
MIGUEL ENRIQUE OTERO: It's a way to stop newspapers, to make them afraid of government, to reduce their importance because the - most of the newspapers are independent and are critical. And they don't like that.
OTIS: Otero was editor of the Caracas' daily, El Nacional. To save paper, he says El Nacional has stopped printing special sections, while the widely read Sunday magazine is only published online. The affected newspapers include El Impulso, Venezuela's oldest daily, which was founded in the western city of Barquisimeto in 1904.
JUAN MANUEL CARMONA: (Foreign language spoken)
OTIS: Editor Juan Manuel Carmona says it is now borrowing newsprint from another newspaper and has reduced its size from 36 to 26 pages.
CARMONA: (Foreign language spoken)
OTIS: Carmona says printed newspapers are vital because many Venezuelans lack the money for iPads or Internet service to read news websites. Newspapers are some of the only watchdogs left in the media. Most TV and radio stations are either controlled by the government or no longer criticize it for fear of losing their transmission licenses.
In a communique, the Miami-based Inter-American Press Association accused President Nicolas Maduro's government of placing an economic stranglehold on newspapers. That includes pulling nearly all government ads from independent papers. But Maduro's allies make light of the newsprint shortage.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "ZURDA KONDUCTA")
OSWALDO RIVERO: (Foreign language spoken)
OTIS: In Zurda Konducta, a pro-government TV show, host Oswaldo Rivero said it was all a hoax. He said there's no shortage of newsprint and joked that if Venezuelans ran out of towels or toilet paper, they could use newspapers.
JULIO CHAVEZ: (Foreign language spoken)
OTIS: Julio Chavez, a ruling party legislator who heads the media commission in the national assembly, claims that Venezuela imported 30 percent more newsprint in 2013 than the year before. He accused newspapers and import companies of hoarding their stocks. But Otero says the crisis all too real.
OTERO: Right now, we are a month from a total shutdown because we don't have anymore newsprint.
OTIS: That's because El Nacional hasn't been able to import a single roll of newsprint since last May. For NPR News, I'm John Otis.
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