| CARACAS, July 5
CARACAS, July 5 The owners of Venezuelan daily
newspaper El Universal said on Saturday they had sold a
controlling stake of the company to a little-known Spanish
investment firm, Epalisticia, marking the third sale of a major
media group in Venezuela since last year.
The sales last year of news channel Globovision and Ultimas
Noticias, the nation's most-read newspaper, resulted in changes
to editorial coverage. At Globovision, which was once ardently
anti-government, there was a reduction in coverage of the
opposition, and at Ultimas Noticias management changes led to a
flood of resignations and dismantling of its investigative unit.
El Universal has been owned by the Mata family, descendants
of poet Andres Mata, who created the publication in 1909.
Terms of the sale of the 105-year-old newspaper were not
disclosed, and calls to Epalisticia's Madrid headquarters were
diverted to an unidentified voicemail.
Reuters was unable to immediately contact the Mata family
for details of the transaction. A newsroom employee at the paper
said the family now lives in New York.
The new management, in a statement published on the
newspaper's front page, promised to maintain the paper's
editorial line, which has been critical of President Nicolas
Maduro and for years openly confronted his predecessor, the late
socialist leader Hugo Chavez.
"The product will remain the same," Jesus Abreu, El
Universal's new president, said in the statement.
Epalisticia's website says the company has capital
commitments of around $1 billion of investments and focuses on
the oil, real estate and media sectors.
Spain's El Mundo newspaper reported that it had been unable
to identify Epalisticia's owners and said official registers
showed the firm's capital was just 3,500 euros.
Opposition critics say private media in Venezuela has turned
steadily toward the government in recent years, alleging
intimidation by the ruling Socialist Party.
Government sympathizers point out that private newspapers
and television stations backed a 2002 coup against Chavez and
say the recent changes have helped address systematic
anti-government bias in the media.
El Universal has been forced to reduce the number of pages
in each edition with newsprint one item on an increasingly long
list of goods Venezuela is running short of as importers
struggle to obtain dollars from a government-restricted supply.
(Writing by Brian Ellsworth; Editing by Peter Murphy and Leslie