On Respect for Facts about Venezuela in the UK Guardian and Elsewhere

It took a lot of prodding but I finally got the UK Guardian to correct an error in an article about Venezuela by Virginia Lopez. She had written that anti-government protesters were venting their rage at, among other things, “hyperinflation”.


It took a lot of prodding but I finally got the UK Guardian to correct an error in an article about Venezuela by Virginia Lopez. She had written that anti-government protesters were venting their rage at, among other things, “hyperinflation”.

To most economists, “hyperinflation” has a very specific meaning:  inflation rates of over 30% per month.

It’s a definition first used by Phillip Cagen in 1956. Venezuela’s inflation rates averaged just under 4% per month in 2013, the highest inflation year in the Chavista era that began in in 1998. In the decade before Chavez , Venezuela often had much higher inflation than in 2013, but even those rates were not close to being “hyperinflation”.

There is a much more important and inexcusable falsehood spread by the Virginia Lopez article, one that cannot be addressed through a simple request for correction.

Her intentions could not be more obvious when she writes “This is not the first time that crosswords have been accused of carrying secret anti-government messages.”  The Guardian editors helped her out with the headline “Venezuelan newspaper accused of devising revolutionary crossword clues”.

There you have it. Not even crossword puzzles in Venezuela can escape government censorship. Where in the Venezuelan media can opposition voices possibly be heard if even crosswords are scrutinized for anti-government content?

It is the kind of lie spread for years by Rory Carroll when his output dominated the Guardian’s Venezuela coverage.

The dishonesty of the Lopez article is easily seen if you actually read Venezuelan newspapers, something most non-Venezuelans won’t do.

Consider a few very recent op-eds in Ultimas Noticias,  Venezuela’s largest newspaper – one government opponents still complain is too soft on the government because it is essentially balanced with pro-government views.

Antonio Ledezma writes on April 3 about “brutal repression, executed by paramilitary groups employed by the regime and who serve the official military men who risk being denounced for crimes against humanity now that there is an International Criminal Court”

Another op-ed from April 3 by Pompeyo Marquez states “There is no solution to the crisis if there is not a change of government and regime, and the 16 year era of Chavista governments is closed. The results can be seen: a country on the edge of a cliff, divided, bloodied, with shortages, the world’s highest inflation, where the government can be seen to resort to repress that throws up dead, injured, and tortured people to stifle legitimate protest”

It’s as easy as shooting fish in a barrel to find op-eds like this in Ultimas Noticias as I recently pointed out to a very surprised and misinformed CBC journalist. Relative to Venezuela’s population, the combined daily circulation of Ultimas Noticias and three other newspapers that are even more critical of the government (El Universal, El National and Tal Qual) is about the same as the combined daily circulation of The New York Times, the Wall Street journal, USA Today and the LA Times.

Nevertheless, Venezuela is ranked 116th out of 179 countries in Reporters Without Borders’ – clearly bogus – “press freedom” index. In a letter to the Venezuela government, RSF recently stated

“The end of government control of news and information is one of the leading demands of the protesters.”

A lack of pluralism in the international press saves RSF and the hardline opposition in Venezuela from receiving the kind of ridicule they deserve for saying this.

Outfits like RSF and Human Rights Watch have resorted to feeble arguments in order to dismiss the importance of the print media in Venezuela. RSF claims in their letter that newsprint shortages have seriously limited access but this articleby Reuters, hardly a Chavista outfit, clarifies that newsprint costs have only forced some small newspapers to reduce circulation and, in some cases, temporarily stop publishing. I would also add that small pro-government newspapers have been among the ones hit.

Moreover, a detailed study of Venezuela’s TV media done by the Carter Center in 2013, showed that government opponents are given ample presence in the TV media.  And as Mark Weisbrot explained here, the Carter Center probably underestimated the opposition’s presence on TV. The New York Times was recently forced to retract its claim that Globovision was the only Venezuelan TV network to “regularly broadcast voices critical of the government”. That’s progress, but after years of misinformation, even well intentioned journalists will tend to uncritically accept what reporters like Virginia Lopez and outfits like RSF say about the Venezuelan media.