Gregory Wilpert is an activist, sociologist and journalist. He first came to Venezuela in 2000, and worked to found Venezuelanalysis three years later. Wilpert is the author of Changing Venezuela by Taking Power: The History and Policies of the Chávez Government (2007), and was director of teleSUR in English from 2014 through 2016. Currently, he is Deputy Editor at the Institute for New Economic Thinking. In this interview, Wilpert talks about the origins of Venezuelanalysis and reflects on the relationship between commitment and objectivity in news reporting.
How (and when) did Venezuelanalysis come to exist?
The idea for the site came about shortly after the April 2002 coup attempt against President Chávez. I had spent an inordinate amount of time trying to counter the false information circulating in the international media about Venezuela and the Bolivarian Revolution during and after the coup attempt. That experience made me realize that it would make sense to start a website in English that centralizes the information I was trying to spread via interviews and articles for numerous news outlets. Eventually, I got in touch with Martin Sánchez, one of the founders and programmers of the Venezuelan website Aporrea.org, and he offered to write the software for Venezuelanalysis.com. At the time, websites were still in their infancy in terms of programming, so you needed far more programming skills back then than you need now. Finally, in September 2003, we were able to launch the site.
How do you see the relationship between objectivity, on the one hand, and commitment and solidarity, on the other, in a media organ such as Venezuelanalysis?
This is a question that has implications not just for outlets such as Venezuelanalysis, but for all news outlets. That is, I would argue that the mainstream media makes us believe that there is a trade-off between objectivity and commitment, when, in actuality, these two stances are not in opposition to one another. Rather, you can be either objective, in the sense of trying to be as honest and accurate as possible, or unobjective, as in not caring about accuracy or truth. At the same time, you can still be committed to a particular point of view, deploying either objectivity or falsehoods in the name of your chosen commitment.
I would argue that all media outlets, including the supposedly “neutral” and “uncommitted” corporate media, are actually committed to particular points of view, namely in favor of dominant class interests. They just go out of their way to hide this commitment and to claim that it does not exist. An outlet such as Venezuelanalysis, though, admits its commitment to the subordinate (or “popular”) classes in Venezuela, while still maintaining objectivity, honesty, and truthfulness in its reporting.
The Venezuelan revolution has shown how important communication is in an anti-imperialist and socialist process of transformation. What do you think are the main lessons to be drawn from a process such as the Venezuelan one in communicational terms?
I would say that the main lesson is one that unfortunately the Venezuelan government and some parts of the solidarity movement have never really learned. That is, there is a tendency among state media to present its case too propagandistically, which then means it loses credibility not only among those who are neutral towards the government, but even among those who are inclined to support the government. I think the writers at Venezuelanalysis have always tried to incorporate this lesson, to remain objective, all the while maintaining their commitment to the country’s poor and to the movements that represent them.
As a negative example, how would you characterize the mainstream media’s approach to the Bolivarian Process?
The mainstream media’s approach is, of course, also an example of propaganda, but of a far more sophisticated kind than the government media. That is, because they hide their commitment to their financiers and to the dominant classes, they manage to feign a lack of commitment to anyone and by associating lack of commitment with objectivity, they claim to be more objective than anyone else. Unfortunately, most people who read the MSM tend to believe these claims of non-commitment and objectivity and thus end up believing everything these outlets say quite readily.
In practical terms this hidden commitment of the mainstream media expresses itself in its reflexive acceptance of anything that the [Venezuelan] opposition says and in its dismissiveness towards (or complete ignoring of) the government’s point of view or of its supporters, or of the Venezuelan poor more generally. For example, we constantly hear about how the 2018 presidential election was supposedly rigged, but you never hear about how it was supposedly rigged.
More recently, the MSM’s credibility has broken down, which is a good thing. But, unfortunately, this loss of credibility has come at a time when the influence of right-wing media has grown, which is far worse than the typical liberal outlets.
The Bolivarian Process has changed quite a bit over the last two decades. How has Venezuelanalysis changed in this period?
Since Venezuelanalysis changed along with the Bolivarian Process, it is important to understand how these changes are related to each other. To keep the response brief, I would just say that as the Bolivarian Process has developed a growing divide between the government and the popular movements, Venezuelanalysis has inevitably had to adjust to this gap by reflecting it and by maintaining its commitment to the popular movements and less so to the government when the two diverge.
In the early phase of the Bolivarian Process, this divergence was far less pronounced. It existed at times, but President Chávez more often than not ended up siding with the grassroots than against them. Unfortunately, the incredible pressure that the US has placed on the Maduro government has led it [the government] to believe all too often that it knows better which way to take the Bolivarian Process than the popular movements. In some cases, it is possible that the government knows better, but given that a large part of the Bolivarian Process was to create a participatory democracy, going against the grassroots, even when they might be wrong, undermines the project as a whole. I think Venezuelanalysis has tried to reflect these complexities, which unfortunately have only become more intense in recent years.