Feb
02
2009

FAIR Study: Human Rights Coverage Serving Washington's Needs

A new FAIR study finds that leading newspapers have been putting political considerations ahead of humanitarian concerns in their editorials on human rights in Latin America.

The report, "Human Rights Coverage Serving Washington's Needs," finds that while Venezuela is by every measure a safer place than Colombia to live, vote, organize unions and political groups, speak out against the government or practice journalism, editorials at four influential newspapers have portrayed Venezuela's government as having a far worse human rights record than Colombia's. While the human rights concerns expressed in newspaper editorials do not track with the degree of human rights abuses documented by human right groups, they do closely follow Washington's official stances toward these countries.

Some highlights from the study, which looked at editorials on human rights in Venezuela and Colombia in the New York Times, Washington Post, Miami Herald and Los Angeles Times over 10 years (1998-2007):

- Nine in 10 editorials about human rights in Venezuela presented a strictly negative view of the country's record, while a majority of the Colombia editorials presented either a mixed or wholly positive assessment. Of the 101 editorials on Venezuela examined in the study, 91 described the human rights situation negatively, and not a single editorial portrayed Venezuela's record in a wholly positive light. Of 90 editorials on Colombia, 42 only portrayed Colombia's situation as negative, 32 expressed a mixed assessment, and 16 were entirely positive.

-The Washington Post editors offered the most positive view of the Colombian government's human rights record; of the paper's 13 editorials on Colombia's record, seven presented a positive view, and none were exclusively negative, while 22 of 23 Post editorials on Venezuela were negative and none were exclusively positive.

-Of the four papers, the New York Times held the Colombian government’s human rights record in the lowest esteem; 20 of its 29 editorials on Colombia were negative, none were positive, and nine held a mixed view. But the Times did not stray far from the norm with regard to Venezuela, with nine out of a total of 12 negative and three mixed.

The authors conclude that, "rather than independently and critically assessing the Colombian and Venezuelan records, major corporate newspaper editors, to one degree or another, have subordinated crucial human rights questions to what they see as the U.S.'s interests in the region."

The report, which is published in the February issue of FAIR's magazine Extra!, is available online at: http://www.fair.org/index.php?page=3699. The pdf can be downloaded at: http://www.fair.org/reports/FAIRStudy_HumanRightsCoverage.pdf

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