Necessary Navel-Gazing In The Venezuelan Press

In the current Columbia Journalism Review, John Dinges runs down the recent history of a derailed free press in Venezuela, but offers some signs of hope that a healthy dose of self-analysis is curing the problems of bias and inaccuracy when it comes to reporting on the government.

Dinges writes:

Many journalists in Venezuela, where the press has a tradition of high quality, confess to having lost their way. They openly admit that they and their editors failed miserably in their duty to provide information that their fellow citizens needed to navigate the storms of Venezuelan politics under Chavez. Instead, media owners and their editors used the news — print and broadcast — to spearhead an opposition movement against Chavez. They sided with Venezuela’s wealthy business community, which sees in Chavez a threat to its economic power and ultimately to Venezuela’s democratic way of life.

I’ve written about how difficult it is to find an objective news source from Venezuela in the American press: many of the mass media outfits in Venezuela are staunch supporters of the oppostion to President Hugo Chavez, with the notable exceptions of the government-run radio and television stations, which show hours of pro-government programming for better or worse.

I’ve also written before that I prefer an anti-establishment press to a pro-establishment one, if those are my only choices. I’m not sure I want to apply that everywhere. Here’s a request: instead of calling it objectivity, let’s just say the mass media shouldn’t have an agenda outside of doing their job: reporting the truth.

Stand back, that’s a big can of worms. In Venezuela, the press was a pillar of the establishment, and fought Chavez in an effort to regain their position. Where does the American press stand? If they are a pillar of the establishment, does it matter who sleeps in the White House?

What if the press in Venezuela had a tradition of standing up for the poor? How would things have gone in April 2002 then?

I just heard the sound of 16,000 people cry out “Where’s the business model in that?”

[UPDATE: There’s an interesting conversation going on in the comments to this post. For some, Dinges is far from an objective observer of Venezuelan journalism. Instead of giving me hope for the state of journalism in Venezuela, the CJR article now serves to prove my point that there’s not enough objective voices reporting on Venezuela in the American press.]

[tags]Venezuela, Objectivity[/tags]

10 thoughts on “Necessary Navel-Gazing In The Venezuelan Press”

  1. First of all, John Dinges is a newcomer to Venezuela having made one trip down there for the launching of Telesur where his partner Saul Landau sits on the Advisory Board. Here we have a conflict of interest. Venezuela is very complicated…in my opinion Mr. Dinges is biased an not qualified to write about Venezuela.


  2. Thanks for the insight – I think Venezuela Today is the best aggregation of news sources on Venezuela that I’ve seen.

    I’m not sure how far back I’m willing to go in pointing out a conflict of interest: as far as I can find, the last thing Landau and Dinges wrote together was published in 1981.

    The Board of Directors of Telesur also includes Danny Glover and Harry Belafonte.

    Reading more about Dinges, I can see that he has a history in South America, if not in Venezuela, and that his history must color his point of view.

    However, I thought his article was the most even-handed thing I’d seen written on journalism in Venezuela, and I still do.


  3. I don’t. The portrait of Andres Izarra was sugarcoated. And he certainly isn’t, as Dinges suggests, the ‘conscience’ of the Venezuelan press corps. I think he got too close to his source. And didn’t check too closely into Izarra’s background back when he was at CNN. Hint: He didn’t act too journalistically. No, Izarra is not the ‘conscience’ of the Venezuelan press corps. He is nothing more than a pro-Chavez shill intent on amassing power and booty; always has been.

    An authentic journalist like Teodoro Petkoff, or maybe Patricia Poleo (who’s had her apartment raked by cops and was sentenced to two years’ jail, something Dinges forgot to mention in his blithe declaration that nobody’s in jail in Venezuela), might be.

    Dinges also forgot to mention all the dead people among the journalists – the fellow who got the ‘Colombian necktie’ is just one of them.

    I get the feeling that Dinges doesn’t trust free markets in journalism and firmly believes that all journalism should be state-run. For their own good, of course.


  4. I’m puzzled by your claim that Dinges is calling Izarra the “conscience” of the Venezuelan press corps. Dinges seems to make it clear that Izarra’s case is just one of many crises of “conscience” in Venezuelan journalism.

    You might consider the value this piece had to American journalists, educators, and students who read CJR. If you read the piece as being about “journalism” you might have a better time than if you read it as being about “Venezuela”.

    Everything else in the American press either paints Chavez as a wanna-be Fidel or as some backwoods Latin American pseudo-dictator. At least this article bothers to explore the reasons why the story comes out that way.


  5. Ryan, let’s change ‘partner’ to ‘friend’ which is why Mr. Dinges went down there. Mr Landau is a vocal supporter of Hugo Chavez who says that the August 14, 2004 presidential recall referendum was won fair and square by Chavez. Comments like this show ignorance or are designed to disinform.
    Landau et al sit on the ‘Board of Advisors’ and not the Board of Directors…it’s more of a symbolic PR function as they don’t really excercise any power. The Dinges piece was carefully written to portray the regime and the ex-Minister of Disinformation Andres Izarra in a good light. You have to know the subject well to understand this.


  6. Ryan, this is a follow-up to your 4:22 post. Mr Dinges is sympathetic to Andres Izarra…even interviewed his crazy old man (chief communist ideologist, former spy traitor, FARC go-between) but did not mention this for that would have brought his son down…why did he interview the father in the first place? Then he gets into Andres’s sorry tale about the events of April 11…Andres swore he would never go back into journalism as a result…that was before he was forced to resign as Minister…now he’s back into journalism as Telesur president. As I said, it’s very complicated and Dinges does not shed any real light with his piece. For that article to have been objective he needed to interview more reporters not on the governments payroll. Of course the people who read CJR will swallow it up.


  7. Ryan: I said ‘suggests.’ Dinges very much portrayed the nasty, rat-like Izarra, a man who specializes in personally abusing journalists (we saved the text-messages as souvenirs) as ‘the conscience’ of Venezuelan journalism. The problem with Izarra is that he draws no respect at all in any journalistic circles. Not based on what he does.

    I think Dinges’ piece will be full of comforting certainties for the denizens of the seventh floor. There is too much moral equivalancy and intentional blindness in that piece.


  8. I agree that Dinges leaves some things unstated which I would rather read here. For example, he mentions the law governing sex/violence on TV but doesn’t explain that it has been used to quelch the live broadcasts from protest marches.

    Those are dots I can connect myself, but I admit that most readers will not be able to do so.

    I also see Dinges writes that no media outlets have been shut down – he’s ambiguous about the time frame, but I recall some clear interference with Globovision in 2003.

    As far as balancing Izarra goes, Dinges does talk to (and tell the story of) Laura Weffer and Los Del Medio. Whether these are good examples of opposition-voiced journalists I can’t say.

    I’m searching around within the US media for balanced stories on Venezuelan media. I’ll start keeping close track of what gets written over here and who’s writing it.


  9. The American press might be changing a lot of truths according to their interests but in this case they are right: Chavez IS a wanna be Fidel AND a Latin American Pseudo dictator.

    a Venezuelan.


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