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Is the Western Media Balanced on Any Scale?

The author contends that the international debate surrounding the alleged "pro-government bias" of Venezuela's Globovision television station is quite revealing of Western corporate media's glaring double standards vis-a-vis Venezuela


Two years ago, a news article about Venezuela in the Christian Science Monitor reported that “Globovisión, widely considered to be the last standing television station to aggressively criticize the Chávez regime, was sold last month to a group of businessmen believed to be friendly with the government.” It is only one sentence in one news article, but in a few ways it reveals that the western media has spent well over a decade parroting anything said by the Venezuelan opposition which is funded and staunchly backed by the US government. For one thing, Andrew Rosati, the reporter I quoted, refers to Venezuela’s democratically elected government as a “regime”. That alone indicates that coverage of the Venezuelan government has been almost one hundred percent negative. Would any reporter refer to “the Obama regime”, and would it ever get past an editor? The same applies to US allies. Good luck finding a western reporter who would dare call Israel’s government a “regime” in a news article.

I’ve already written a piece explaining that Venezuelan opposition leaders appeared on major private broadcasters, Televen and Venevision, to accuse the government of murder, repression and theft while violent anti-government protests raged in February of 2014 – several months after the ownership change at Globovisión. These leaders were given ample time to speak and were treated very respectfully as they ferociously attacked the government. Venevision has the largest audience share for news of any public or private broadcaster in Venezuela. As of 2013, Televen also had a larger share than Globovision. In other words, possibly without knowing it, Andrew Rosati, like countless other reporters, was spreading an outrageous lie. Globovisión was never the only major broadcaster where Venezuelans could easily find aggressive anti-government views. But what exactly happened to Globovisión since the ownership change in May of 2013?

Researchers with the American University’s Center for Latin American and Latino Studies (CLALS) in Washington DC just released a study that found that Globovision is not biased towards the Venezuelan government or the opposition since the ownership change. Opposition supporters immediately attacked the study for being commissioned by Globovision even though the researchers tried to make the findings palatable to the hopelessly biased international media.

The CLALS study examined coverage of four key events since the ownership change:  the 2013 municipal elections, opposition protests in early 2014, internationally mediated talks between the government and opposition in the spring of 2014, and the shortages of goods during the summer of 2014.

The researchers explained “we identified thirteen news or opinion programs that regularly covered contemporary political topics of interest to this study. Rather than randomly select broadcasts from these thirteen programs, however, we chose to focus on those with the highest viewership,..”.

They then selected twenty five broadcasts for each period by using the following methodology “researchers listed all broadcasts of the three selected programs in chronologi­cal order over the entire period. Second, researchers used the random number generator function, ‘RAND(),’ which generates a random number between 0 and 1 for each broadcast. Third, research­ers sorted all broadcasts in ascending order based on these random numbers and selected the first twenty-five broadcasts within each critical juncture.”

Weights were then assigned to the randomly selected broadcasts in an attempt to objectively answer the following questions:

  • Does Globovisión provide regular and fair coverage and airtime of the opposition in Venezuela re: stories, policies and interviews?
  • Does Globovisión provide coverage that presents the government in a negative light or holds it accountable?
  • Is there balance in the airtime afforded to opposition and government coverage?

The answer to each question was “yes” according to the study, but it is interesting how the researchers decided to sell their findings. In a piece entitled “Globovisión is balanced, but on what scale?”  the researchers stated “analysts and sectors of the general public have assumed the channel is now heavily slanted in favor of the government. According to our study of Globovisión’s coverage, this perception needs to be rethought.” It is not clear if they are referring to “analysts” and the “general public” in Venezuela alone or abroad. However, the most important conclusion to be drawn from their study is that international media reporting has been shockingly biased and inaccurate about Venezuelan TV news. The researchers either ignored that conclusion or expressed it with remarkable timidity. When a German broadcaster, for example, said in February that Globovisión had been turned into a “government mouthpiece” it was saying what the western media’s reporting would lead anyone to believe.

The CLALS researchers also wrote in their piece that “While Globovisión offered coverage of major news stories during these four periods, two important holes in the news coverage need underscoring. The case of Leopoldo López, arguably the most critical individual example for human rights, received comparatively less visibility than it did on two international outlets Globovisión competes with—CNN in Spanish and NTN24. Likewise, Governor Henrique Capriles, the opposition’s 2012 and 2013 Presidential candidate, was not interviewed in-studio during the periods we studied–a notable absence given his still significant political profile.”

The standard the CLALS researchers use to decide if Leopoldo Lopez gets enough attention is an international media that depicts Globovisión as a government mouthpiece. That’s a risible standard as the researchers must know. And why should any decent person consider Leopoldo López’s imprisonment, even if you accept the extremely dubious assumption that it’s a human rights violation, to be more important than the assassination of Sabino Romero? The trial and sentencing of some of Romero’s killers took place during the period CLALS investigated. He was never mentioned in the study.

As for Capriles, he did appear in the broadcasts sampled by the researchers but they chose to “underscore” that they didn’t pick up any “in-studio” interviews. During the time period that CLALS investigated, Capriles was a twice-defeated presidential candidate. Anywhere in the world, media coverage of defeated presidential candidates tends to fall quite drastically. The violent protests of 2014 also revealed deep tactical divisions within the opposition that alienated Capriles from a vocal segment of it. Among government opponents, Capriles does not have the stature that Hugo Chávez acquired among government supporters – that of undisputed leader.

It appears the CLALS researchers want to give western journalists a way to publicize the study without having to “underscore” very damming conclusions about the international media’s coverage of Venezuela. That suggests the researchers either share the bias against Venezuela’s government, or feel strongly obliged to cater to that bias.

At any rate, reporting about Venezuela has been so terrible that it doesn’t take rigorous study of Globovisión’s content to expose it. Just consider one lengthy interview that opposition legislator Julio Borges gave on Globovisión early this year. Borges used the interview to spread drug smuggling allegations against National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello, the same allegations spread by the Wall Street Journal. Rely on the international press and you’d never believe that interview could take place on any Venezuelan TV network.