Interview with Marianela Balbi Ochoa, Venezuela

Instituto Prensa y Sociedad

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Civil society organization Instituto Prensa y Sociedad (IPYS) Venezuela was founded twenty years ago by journalists and freedom of press defenders. It monitors and denounces violations to the rights of freedom of expression, freedom of the press, and access to information, seeking appropriate working conditions for journalists and media professionals. IPYS Venezuela defends the legal guarantees for freedom of expression and the right of access to information as cornerstones of democratic co-existence, in accordance with international standards. It provides journalists and media professionals with professional development opportunities to support independent and vigilant reporting, especially investigative journalism.

Marianela Balbi Ochoa

Executive Director


Marianela Balbi is a journalist with a bachelor’s degree from Venezuela’s Universidad Católica Andres Bello and a master’s degree in Hispanic Literary Studies from France’s Sorbonne-Nouvelle University. She has served as IPYS Venezuela’s director for the past 11 years and also directs the Advanced Studies Program in Investigative Journalism at Universidad Católica Andres Bello. In 2009, she published the nonfiction book El rapto de la odalisca (Debate), a journalistic investigation into the theft of a Matisse masterpiece from the Museum of Contemporary Art in Caracas. In 2014, she and Bárbara Rondón Mendoza co-wrote the autobiography Soy Barbara, Soy Especial (Planeta).

She has served on the jury of the Roche-GABO Foundation Award, the pre-qualifying jury of the GABO Award, and the Regional Jury (South America) of the World Press Photo Contest 2023. She has been a member of the Global Council of IFEX (formerly the International Freedom of Expression Exchange) since April 2019, and from 2015-19 she coordinated the IFEX Latin America and the Caribbean Committee.


What is the role of your organization, and what has been your career path in recent years?

IPYS Venezuela is an independent NGO that defends freedom of expression, freedom of the press, and access to information nationally and internationally. We believe that journalism is a cornerstone of and fundamental profession for the defense of fundamental rights. For the past 20 years, IPYS Venezuela has worked in a restrictive and autocratic environment, defending the full exercise of rights of journalists and the media. It has worked to monitor, document, publicize, and denounce the threats and the insecurity faced by working journalists, as well as the current environment for media in Venezuela. We also train and instruct journalists, especially in skills related to investigative journalism.

Broadly speaking, what would you say is the main challenge to freedom of expression in your country?

Our main challenge is to dismantle the state’s model of censorship and hegemony and instead promote a free, plural, independent, and transparent media, as well as the restoration of full democracy in Venezuela. For more than two decades, freedom of expression has been seriously threatened by an undemocratic and authoritarian regime that has designed a series of laws, regulations, and repressive policies that have destroyed the fabric of the media and threatened journalists’ safety. Dismantling the censorship model to make way for a democratic media requires, among other urgent measures, putting an end to the attacks and threats against the media and journalists, re-establishing a separation of powers to prevent the persecution of media professionals through the judicial system, and prohibiting the blocking of digital media.

Does this challenge extend to the world of journalism? How do journalists in your country experience it?

The main challenge for journalism is to resume the free flow of information in all areas. This translates into guaranteeing freedom and independence and providing appropriate conditions for the operation of traditional and digital media. But the challenge also extends to ensuring journalist safety, investigating crimes against journalists, ceasing the use of the judicial system to target the media and journalists, and demanding respect for the full exercise of press freedom. We need to provide these conditions so journalists do not have to emigrate and can continue their work in Venezuela without facing repercussions for uncovering the truth.

Continued obstructions to accessing information and a lack of transparency in public management have fostered a culture of secrecy in Venezuela."

What resources do citizens have to access public information? What is this like in practice?

In Venezuela, there are restrictions on obtaining public interest information. In addition, the Inter-American standards on transparency are not met, even after the Law on Transparency and Access to Information of Public Interest went into effect in September 2021. The state still ignores requests for information made by journalists, independent media, and fact-finding and civil society organizations. Moreover, continued obstructions to accessing information and a lack of transparency in public management have fostered a culture of secrecy in Venezuela. This not only violates the right of access to information in a timely, truthful, and impartial manner, as established by the Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, but also undermines citizen participation by withholding information of public interest.

What lessons can your national context offer to the regional struggle for freedom of expression? How do you propose to advance the regional struggle?

Through our constant struggle against an authoritarian and anti-democratic political regime, IPYS Venezuela has developed practices that can be of use to other countries facing similar realities, especially in pursuing strategies that raise the political costs of violating freedoms of expression, press, and access to public information. We also have valuable experience in terms of how journalists can circumvent censorship and continue safe and resilient reporting, developing initiatives to reach audiences in news deserts, and using collaborative mechanisms to protect ourselves. Using networks to amplify the work of individual organizations is an important strategy that we must continue improving on to make our joint actions more efficient.

What do you think is your organization's most important contribution to the Voces del Sur network?

IPYS Venezuela has been able to share its experience of working in a restrictive context in a way that has allowed us to reveal the situation of freedom of expression and journalists’ safety. In a national context facing a complex humanitarian emergency, it has been challenging to add the issues of freedom of expression to the public agenda. We can share with Voces del Sur network members, as well as our experience in producing quality data, carrying out monitoring, and disseminating the denunciation of abuses. We still have much to learn from our colleagues, and the Voces del Sur network provides us that opportunity.

Contact IPYS

WhatsApp: +58 424 242.48.45

Published on June 5, 2023.

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