Thursday, April 20, 2006

The Fourth Estate out of control 

I don’t normally quote from other blogs, much less there comments section but there was something in the comments section of the opposition blog, Caracas Chronicles, that just cried out for comment. Here is an exchange in its comments section:

I was stunned to see today that El Nacional decided to publish in front page the news that Teodoro was announcing his candidacy tomorrow, while pushing SUMATE’s announcement to a small article inside.

A successful primary might be the turning point of the crisis.
Gustavo | 04.19.06 - 3:55 pm | #

M.H. Otero, RCTV and Globovision are all in the Petkoff bandwagon. Y si te digo que el burro es negro, es porque tengo los pelos en la mano.
Katy | 04.19.06 - 4:11 pm | #

For those who may not follow this exchange let me do a little interpreting. El Nacional is one of the larger opposition newspapers in Venezuela. And according to Gustavo that paper [which is by subscription only so I can’t show it] played up the candidacy of Teodoro Petkoff while virtually ignoring the major news of the day, that opposition NGO Sumate would be organizing primaries.

In response to that observation another reader, Katy, who has interviewed Petkoff, pointed out that the TV networks RCTV and Globovision and Miguel Otero, the owner of El Nacional, are all supporters of Petkoff.

The clear implication? That El Nacional intentionally changed its coverage of the days news to favor Petkoff by playing up news of his candidacy while downplaying potential primary elections which, not incidently, Petkoff opposes.

Before going any further let me back up a bit. Anyone who has followed Venezuela at all can’t help but be aware of the extreme bias that has permeated its reporting. Much of the media is completely dedicated to removing Chavez from power and is willing to completely slant its reporting and even lie to accomplish that. In fact, Miguel Otero told Juan Forero in a PBS Frontline interview that "we have to get Chavez out". And certainly no one who saw “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” will easily forget the military officers on TV thanking “los medios” for their role in the coup.

So that most of the Venezuelan media has very little in the way of journalistic standards and is willing to let their political biases and aims color their everyday reporting is hardly news. Yet many people will assume this is driven by anti-Chavez fanaticism and that if Chavez weren’t around Venezuela would have a healthy and vibrant press.

Gustavo’s and Katy’s comments show just how wrong that idea is and how much deeper the problems are. The Venezuelan opposition is now carrying out an internal debate as to who their candidate should be that stands against Chavez in the upcoming elections. If Venezuela had journalists that practiced responsible journalism the media would be full of news about all of the potential candidates, their proposals, and what was being done to arrange primaries.
Of course, different news outlets would have different editorial stances and could even endorse candidates but presumably they should at least make some effort to keep their actual reporting objective and balanced.

But that is not what happens in Venezuela. In this example we can see that El Nacional blocking out coverage of things it is against (primaries) and playing up news about candidates its favors (Petkoff). This clearly shows that their lack of journalistic ethics and determination to shape the news rather than just report it transcends the struggle against Chavez. They are carrying out their standards manipulations in this case when the only people involved are opposition supporters and the matter has nothing to do with Chavez!

When I first read these comments for a second it took my breath away. Clearly these media barons think of themselves not only as people who have the right to try to overthrow a president who they don’t like but they also view themselves as king makers who should be able on their own to chart the future of the country and determine who will lead it. Unfortunately for Venezuela this arrogance is backed up by their immense fortunes and great power.

What can be done about this? I have no idea. I certainly don’t condone censorship or the closing of media outlets. Yet it looks highly unlikely that the Venezuelan media will change of its own accord. So in the end I can’t do anything more than make the observation that if what Gustavo and Katy have pointed out to us doesn’t show how dysfunctional the Venezuelan opposition and the society it claims to represent are I don’t know what does.


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