The only television station that regularly broadcast voices critical of the government was sold last year and the new owners have softened its news coverage.
This struck some observers, like Mark Weisbrot of the Center for Economic & Policy Research (2/24/14), as totally overblown, since opposition figures do in fact appear routinely on Venezuelan television. As he pointed out, the Carter Center studied media coverage during the country’s presidential election last year, and found that opposition candidate Henrique Capriles received much more coverage than President Nicolás Maduro, whose campaign enjoyed an overwhelming advantage in state-owned media. Overall, Weisbrot wrote, it might be reasonable to conclude that Maduro had a slight edge in TV time when public and private TV channels are considered together.
So it’s not clear why the Times would suggest that there was only one channel that featured opposition voices, and that it seemed less likely to do so now.
Writer and activist Robert Naiman wondered too, so he wrote to the Times (2/25/14) to ask whether they would print a correction.
They would not. Louis Lucero II, the paper’s assistant to the senior editor for standards, who wrote this:
We remain confident in the factual accuracy of the central assertion of our sentence (that the only television station that regularly broadcast voices critical of the government was sold last year), but you seems to take issue with the less clearly disprovable claim that the new owners have adopted a less critical tack when covering the government. Accordingly, I’m afraid a contrary assessment from the CEPR doesn’t quite rise to the level of the empirical counter-evidence we require to correct a claim made in our articles.
This is an odd response, seeming to misunderstand the complaint. The paper was suggesting that there was only one TV station regularly featuring anti-government views in Venezuela last year, and that it would be less likely to do so now. That is, at best, totally misleading.
Naiman’s group started a petition to get the Times to correct the story. Lo and behold, the Times corrected the story:
Correction: February 26, 2014
An earlier version of this article referred imprecisely to Globovision. Before its sale last year, it broadcast more voices critical of the Venezuelan government than any other TV station, but it was not the only one to regularly feature government critics.
As is often the case, the correction obscures the central problem with the piece: that it reported erroneously that Venezuelan TV is a place where voices critical of the government do not appear.
Interestingly, Neuman wrote another piece (2/25/14) about protests in San Cristobal, an opposition stronghold in the western part of the country. It included this observation:
Nearby, a neighbor, Teresa Contreras, 53, flipped through the channels on her television, showing that there was no coverage of the violence, a sign, she said, of the government control over the news media.
Is the idea that any protest anywhere that isn’t being covered in real time by television is evidence of state control of the media? That would be an interesting standard to apply to the US press.
Meanwhile, the Times ran an op-ed by Francisco Toro (2/24/14), a Venezuelan expatriate whose blog post accusing international media of ignoring a “tropical pogrom” against demonstrators in Venezuela was hugely popular on social media–despite the fact that he later described it as an “overstatement in the heat of the moment” (Twitter, 2/24/14).
Toro’s op-ed declared that “to the Venezuelan government, all dissent is treason”–citing as an example a speech by opposition leader Henrique Capriles: “Few outside the rally heard him, however, because government pressure ensured that no broadcast media carried coverage of the event.”
Asked about the discrepancy, Toro (Twitter, 2/26/14) responded: “There was no live coverage.” Can you imagine living in a state so repressive that speeches by government opponents aren’t covered live?
The Times‘ print edition ran a more comprehensive correction (2/28/14)
An article last Friday about concerns by opponents of President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela that they have fewer and fewer locations in which to demonstrate and express their discontent referred incorrectly to Globovision, a Venezuela TV station. Before its sale last year, it broadcast more voices critical of the Venezuelan government than other television stations, but it was not the only one to regularly feature government critics.