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.
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.]