Sunday, May 11, 2003

May 11, 2003

Today El Universal editorial struck a chord in me. To the point that I have decided to translate it. It talks about how the foreign press on occasion is not afraid of misreporting the news for some obscure interest. Without further ado, today’s editorial, followed by some comments.

Objective Journalism?

A lot of ink has been spilled here and abroad, lecturing over a supposed lack of journalistic objectivity that some qualify the Venezuelan media with, without much investigation on the events, nor a fair evaluation of the context under which the media undertake their difficult labor.

Fortunately, time and menaces _ thuggery withstanding _ that range from promoting violence to induce assault against journalists, who number hundreds of victims, to the use of ISLR [1], opening of administrative investigations, currency exchange controls and “leyes mordaza” [2], with the objective to cause self-censorship, account for this harsh reality.

The Venezuelan media, although working under an atmosphere of racketeering, have managed adequate levels of professionalism and productivity. Numerous are the investigative works published that support a flow of news that everyday, more and more, point to the nightmare that this regime is becoming, able to exterminate the opposition, destroy institutions and terminate the repose of Venezuelans.

It is disconcerting that sporadically some people report overseas a sort of ritornello, plagued by prejudice, superficiality and concepts with factual mistakes, over aspects related to the popular support of Chavez, or the bounties of a revolution that sometimes rings as a justice bringing to them and some times avenging. This is so, that given the outcry that exists in Venezuela respecting the celebration of a recall election and against a recent New York Times article, two US pollsters felt obliged to send the editor a letter (Chavez and Venezuelans) published May 3, 2003, warning of the mistake that ignoring these realities is. Amen of this other French editor, propaganda master of the regime.

The scandalous controversy that CNN is embroiled in, as a consequence of its decision no to divulge the assassinations and tortures of its local team during the regime of Hussein, allegedly for fear of reprisals and loss of access, which forbade the world to know first hand these horrors, is a warning against the danger of the tyrannies that skillfully charm useful people, to slow down the understanding of the shortfalls and vexations that they subject their citizens to.

[1] Income tax system in Venezuela
[2] “Gag rule law”, currently under discussion.


Now let me start by saying that El Universal has been the first target of Chavez and thus it is a little bit sensitive. Chavez’s Venezuela is not Saddam’s Iraq, by far. That Chavez might want to become a tropical Saddam is another issue.

However El Universal underlines a very real issue that I have been addressing regularly through these reports.

Many in the foreign press do not seem to try to understand really what is happening here, and worse, try to make it fit pre-established models of third world conflicts: black versus white, rich versus poor, cities versus country sides. This sometimes sounds extremely condescending almost implying that our societies are too primitive to understand concepts of freedom and welfare the way these journalists think. Two of the main culprits are Juan Forero from the New York Times, or Ignacio Ramonet of the Monde Diplomatique who beats all records in cynicism. At least articles of Juan Forero are sometimes contradicted by editorials of the New York Times or balanced by excellent articles like the one of Moises Naim in March. Still, it is incomprehensible that Mr. Forero goes unchecked at this point in the game, though admittedly on occasion doubt seems to creep into his writing.

But Le Monde Diplomatique, as the editorial alluded to “Amen of this other French editor, propaganda master of the regime” has indeed become the official propaganda agency of the regime in France, going as far as organizing a Bolivarian Forum. The funding still remains to be accounted, and not only in the pages of Le Monde Diplomatique which so far as not published a diverging opinion. Or at least I did not find it. (Note, the venerable Le Monde is more balanced, Le Monde Diplomatique is a monthly paper, beware of confusion). The point is that Ignacio Ramonet is clearly using Chavez to promote his image of the intellectual leader of the anti globalization. Chavez is clearly using him to get the intellectual patina that he has rotundly failed to get among Venezuelan serious intellectuals that have mostly abandoned him.

The CNN reference is actually chilling and I am adding to end this post what I found on the New York Times after a quick search. Additional comments are unnecessary after reading this little bit that the archives grant, but I will remind you that on January 19 I witnessed how a large crowd of tens of thousand booed out of the stage the CNN journalist Criskaut that was trying to report. I wonder if CNN ever mentioned this anecdote…


Editorial Desk | April 21, 2003, Monday
Editorial Observer; The Rules for Covering Brutal Dictatorships Aren't Black and White

Late Edition - Final , Section A , Page 22 , Column 1

ABSTRACT - Ethan Bronner Editorial Observer on Eason Jordon's revelation that CNN failed to report some despicable facts about regime of Saddam Hussein in order to protect news organization's Iraqi staff; says controversy highlights uncomfortable reality that covering totalitarian states forces journalists to act in compromising ways Eason Jordan, the news chief of CNN, unburdened himself of some horrific secrets recently and is the object of withering attack. In an article on the facing page on April 11, Mr. Jordan said that on trips to Baghdad, he learned despicable facts about the regime of Saddam Hussein that CNN could not report without endangering its Iraqi staff. Among those facts: a CNN cameraman was tortured by government thugs; Uday Hussein, the dictator's son, said he intended to murder two brothers-in-law and King Hussein of Jordan; and an aide to Uday said his front teeth had been yanked out with pliers by Uday's henchmen, who told him not to wear dentures so he would remember never to upset his boss. To have reported any of this, Mr. Jordan wrote, would have endangered his local employees and their families.

Nobody assailing Mr. Jordan -- in a flood of letters to The Times and in opinion columns and broadcasts -- questioned the danger. But many argued that CNN should have closed its bureau and then reported the truth. Moreover, they said, CNN's decision to keep a presence in Baghdad had less to do with concern for Iraqis or journalism than with money. With an eye on its ratings, CNN had sold its soul.

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