Venezuela: Media fails to present balance

Steve Ellner.

On September 28, a British Guardian reporter who interviewed me by phone published an article on the September 26 Venezuelan National Assembly elections titled “Opposition Gains Loosen Chavez’s Grip on Power.”

According to the article, I said the electoral results “suggested the government should try to modify its radical discourse and accommodate the opposition, as long as it accepted the government’s legitimacy”.

However, at no time did I tell the reporter that President Hugo Chavez should “modify his radical discourse”. These are words put in my mouth and they contradict what I have argued in my own writing.

For instance, in my article in the July-August issue of NACLA: Report on the Americas, I said the ongoing deepening of the process of change in Venezuela invigorates the rank and file of the movement and is the best corrective to disillusionment and erosion of enthusiasm.

If this were an isolated case of being misrepresented by the press, I would not take the time to write about the incident at this very moment. It is certainly understandable that reporters get it wrong once in a while.

But the fact is these types of misrepresentation are consistent, as they invariably serve to back up a particular editorial line.

Most disturbing, seldom is an argument that in any way favors the Chavez government, or places its actions in a wider context in order to better understand developments, incorporated into the article. Without exception, the misquotes and distortions of what I say point in the direction of government errors and shortcomings.

And I am not the only victim of this lack of professional rigor. Colleagues of mine who are fairly sympathetic to the Chavez government tell me of similar frustrating experiences.

During interviews, I always assume, or hope, that the analysis I provide will allow the reporter to write a balanced article and present various positions, which would allow the reader to grasp the complexity of developments in Venezuela.

In any case, such an approach would allow readers to reach conclusions on their own.

But when I see the article in print, I am always dismayed at the narrow thrust of the article, which invariably hammers away at the weaknesses and alleged failures of the Chavez government.

Time and again I ask myself: “why is the media so reluctant to be open and fair in its reporting on Venezuela?”

[Steve Ellner is a professor at the Universidad de Oriente in Puerto La Cruz, Venezuela and also teaches in the government’s university-based Sucre Mission. He is the author of Rethinking Venezuelan Politics: Class, Conflict and the Chavez Phenomenon (Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2008).]