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Venezuela's oldest independent daily sold

“That's the way it is”, Elides J. Rojas L., El Universal's managing editor, said in a post on his blog on the publication's website on Saturday explaining the sale of one of Venezuela's oldest independent newspapers.

Rojas confirmed the sale of the publication last weekend and mentioned that its editorial line will not change as a result of the business transaction.

“At El Universal, we have expressed for many years our opinions with total liberty, always with honesty and tied to our values, something that we will continue doing,” Rojas explained on his blog. “That is our commitment. This translates to freedom of thought and freedom of expression.”

El Universal, which just celebrated its 105th year running, is the third leading private media company to be sold in Venezuela since March 2013. Cadena Capriles and Globovisión, the other two private media companies, which were sold last year, were known for publishing information critical of the government. According to reports, Globovisión has stopped airing press conferences involving members of the opposition. And over the last few months, several journalists have left Grupo Últimas Noticias, formerly known as Cadena Capriles, citing self-censorship issues.

“It is indeed troubling that publications, which have been vocal critics of the government, have been under such economic pressure that has challenged their very existence,” International Press Institute (IPI) Press Freedom Manager Barbara Trionfi said. “We hope that the change in ownership at El Universal will not limit its editorial independence, as this would further challenge the ability of people in Venezuela to access a broad spectrum of opinions.”

In recent months, El Universal has been vocal in its criticism of government policies limiting currency exchange as well as an endemic lack of newsprint that increasingly has been challenging Venezuelan publications since August 2013. Since then, at least 11 publications in Venezuela have stopped their printed editions altogether and at least 80 have been forced to reduce the size of their newspapers, according to Lisbeth de Cambra, general secretary for the National Association of Journalists in Caracas (CNP, for its initials in Spanish).

El Universal, one of the biggest publications in Venezuela, with a daily circulation of 80,000 and up to 200,000 on Sundays, announced that it would begin to decrease the number of pages for each edition beginning last April. Yet it never reduced the number of sections, Cambra told IPI in a telephone interview this week.

The publication was sold for €90 million to a recently-founded company called Epalisticia SL, which was first registered in Madrid in June 2013. The CNP has not been able to confirm as of July 9 if the new ownership has ties to Venezuela's Bolivarian government, Cambra said.

Cambra noted that Jesús Abreu Anselmi, the new president of the newspaper, met with his staff members last week and pledged, as Rojas did in his July 5 blog post, that the editorial line of the publication will not change. He also dismissed layoff rumours and, in fact, mentioned the possibility of a salary increase for some as a result of the business transaction, Cambra added.

Today, CNP directors are set to meet with journalists from El Universal to discuss any possible concerns they might have with regard to the new ownership.

“The essence of a newspaper is not its management or its editors,” Cambra told IPI. “It is its readers. We hope that the new leadership at El Universal can understand that.”

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