I Respect Your Opinion But Hope You Die

VA columnist Jessica Dos Santos argues that, despite a tilted playing field, Chavista media should do better in the battle of ideas.

A few weeks ago, Inna Afinogenova, star host of RT Spanish, published a video announcing her departure from the outlet as a result of her disagreement with the Ukraine war, despite “understanding the underlying motives.”

Her statement was very thorough and built on clear principles. It did not mention Putin and clearly condemned NATO. Yet she faced huge blowback on social media. People on the right gloated about her “defeat.” From the left she was called dumb, a traitor, a sellout, a liar and a bunch of other things.

I confess I spent a couple of hours browsing comments, especially because many of them came from Venezuelans who were clearly identified with Chavismo or the opposition. Perhaps it was predictable given RT’s penetration in Latin America and Venezuela’s polarization.

As I read and went back to watch the video time and again, I thought that I could easily produce content like that about so many Venezuelan issues in which I disagree with both sides. Or worse still, where I think the debate gets hijacked by the most fanatical elements and in the end there is nothing to be learned from it.

But the reason why I don’t do it is precisely that torrent of tweets and comments: venture a bit from one of the absolute poles and you’re attacked by both.

When I left my job in a public media outlet after almost 10 years, my opposition acquaintances made fun of me endlessly and repeated several variants of the same threat: “good luck finding a job now after all the shit you said or endorsed.”

As if that wasn’t enough, many of my former workmates called me a traitor or accused me of jumping ship at the worst moment. Some even said that I would “flee the country” at the earliest opportunity.

This is a recurring pattern. If a Chavista says “I can’t find this medicine,” opposition people will say “but you have a Homeland,” “serves you right,” “go out and vote for Chavismo again.”

At the same time, some pro-government people urge you to speak quietly because “US imperialism might get wind of it and use it against us.” As if pretending something doesn’t exist can make it go away.

All extremists open by saying they “respect” other opinions before bludgeoning them to death. Then when they want your support, or when another electoral campaign comes around, they are all for “reconciliation” and “constructive criticism.”

The terrible bit is that we as journalists have played a role in this. In her video, Inna talks about war propaganda, journalists who will only read or transcribe official statements, with no intention of offering a critical perspective or incorporating other viewpoints.

I know there is no such thing as objectivity, that impartial journalism is a myth and that our role is not just to give a voice to both sides. Even more so because the opposition has always counted on overwhelming support from private and foreign outlets.

Plenty of us have spent time picking apart the western media propaganda, the blatant lies and subtle misrepresentations that serve to justify sanctions and all sorts of attacks against the Venezuelan people.

But at the same time I refuse to accept that journalism from “our” side can’t be more than what we’ve been doing. I am perfectly aware of the importance of choosing our words carefully, but I spent more than a decade reading or getting really absurd government instructions about this.

There were bosses who would threaten to fire you if you wrote the word “inflation” without its “induced” qualifier, or if instead of “economic war” you would dare write “crisis.” This was totally irrelevant for people on the streets who worried most about being able to buy bread without its price going up twice a day.

In an extreme case, when Chávez died, there was a veto on the word “death.” We had to say that our president had “been sown” or “become eternal” because this would be “less harsh” and people would feel better. Mind you, this went against Chávez’s own teachings and track record, it placed a divine aura on someone who had always been one of us.

On top of that, it seems like no one does any research at all. The most renowned and prize-winning journalists are communicators who interview government/party higher-ups with the same old questions, many of them agreed upon beforehand or “suggested” by the interviewee. It’s not uncommon to read in state media that “plan X will boost steel production” but no explanation on how it will be achieved, even less so any mention of current production.

I remember an election in which the Electoral Council forced media outlets to feature candidates from both coalitions and it almost triggered a mass resignation from pro-government journalists. They couldn’t fathom “asking questions to those reactionaries,” “giving a voice to traitors,” etc.

We have done a poor job and encouraged others to follow suit. A vicious circle that only strengthens the worst habits. We have fed monsters that now devour everything… even the ability to think critically.

Jessica Dos Santos is a Venezuelan university professor, journalist and writer whose work has appeared in outlets such as RT, Épale CCS magazine and Investig’Action. She is the author of the book “Caracas en Alpargatas” (2018). She’s won the Aníbal Nazoa Journalism Prize in 2014 and received honorable mentions in the Simón Bolívar National Journalism prize in 2016 and 2018.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Venezuelanalysis editorial staff.

Translated by Venezuelanalysis.