Enrique Standish says foreign correspondents heading to Venezuela must take a critical position on government propaganda.
If you are from the United States, the PanAm Post contributor warns, “You . . . have been trained to get the ‘official’ point of view. Be aware that you will be fed a lie.”
This advice should hold for journalists across all constituencies.
However, the warning assumes particular import as crisis unfolds in Venezuela. The Chavista propaganda machine has spent years preparing for this moment.
As I have previously reported, the mobilization of Bolivarian Circles in Canada (as elsewhere) has been accompanied by an active media campaign designed to increase the reach and success of the Chavista platform.
Chavista loyalists in Canada, for example, have successfully taken action against the Canadian national press for failing to accommodate the “official” position of the Venezuelan regime.
In a 2006 case launched by members of the Toronto-based Bolivarian Circle Louis Riel, the Toronto Star (Canada’s largest national daily newspaper), was accused of “erroneous, unbalanced, biased, and degrading” reporting for a four-part series that included viewpoints critical of the Venezuelan government.
The reporter responsible for the series had sought comment from Venezuelan officials through the US embassy in Washington, D.C. The Star produced correspondence indicating that it had “aggressively pursued” a government response but that the Venezuelan government “ignored” all requests for comment.
Despite this, the media adjudication council for the Province of Ontario upheld the complaint against the Star. According to the Ontario Press Council decision, “only comment from government officials could offset criticism of the Venezuelan regime contained in the articles.”
That decision arguably explains why the Star has yet to file independent reporting on the unfolding crisis in Venezuela, relying on wire reports that privilege the “official” government position against so-called opposition “hardliners” such as Leopoldo López.
In fact, given that Canada’s national press carried in-depth coverage of the death of former President of Venezuela Hugo Chávez, the lack of critical coverage by these same outlets of the legacy of Chávez’s 21st Century Socialism is striking.
The Globe and Mail‘s Latin-American correspondent, Stephanie Nolen, for example, characterizes the current unrest as the outcome of poor leadership — Maduro is no Chávez. She ignores what is more correctly understood as the failure of socialism as an economic model. Nolen’s sources assure readers that “even Chavismo-without-Chávez offers Venezuelans more than what a disorganized, rigidly right-wing opposition does.”
At least part of the problem facing Venezuela’s opposition involves combating the success of the Chavista propaganda machine in globalizing this message.
Unlike those who mistakenly underestimate Chavismo, Standish is correct to underscore that “the Venezuelan government is extremely media savvy.”
Not only has Chavismo put a chill effect on free speech inside Venezuela, it has mobilized an international lobby of media vigilantes committed to ensuring the “official” story continues to make headlines.