Mérida, 25th January 2013 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – The Venezuelan government has announced that it will pursue legal action against Spanish newspaper El País for the publication of a fake photograph purporting to show President Hugo Chavez undergoing medical treatment.
El País published the photograph as a front-page “exclusive” on Thursday morning alongside the headline “The Secret of Chavez’s Illness”. However it was discovered shortly after the image was posted on the paper’s website that the photograph was in fact not of Chavez but was taken from a video in 2008 of someone else receiving treatment.
El País immediately removed the image from its website, recalled its print edition and issued an apology to readers. Nevertheless, the damage was done and the incident has become an international scandal.
In an official statement yesterday the Venezuelan government called the fake photo “grotesque” and accused the Spanish paper of violating journalistic ethics, its own code of conduct and “the most basic rights of patients and human beings”.
The government claimed the image’s publication was part of “a systematic offensive by transnational media power against the Bolivarian Revolution and ...Hugo Chavez”, singling out Spanish dailies ABC and El País in particular.
Minister of communication Ernesto Villegas, who read out the statement, also announced that the government would be taking “the pertinent legal actions against the affront committed, which is not compensated by the meagre apology offered to its readers”. Villegas also pointed out that the paper’s apology was not extended to Chavez, his family or the Venezuelan people.
A range of organisations have expressed their rejection of El País’ conduct, including solidarity groups, journalistic associations, and international figures such as Argentine president Cristina Kirchner.
The mainstream Spanish press, in particular ABC and El País, have been under criticism in Venezuela recently for their coverage of Chavez’s health and the political situation in the country, as the Venezuelan president recovers from his cancer operation undergone last month.
In a recent interview, Venezuelan Vice-president Nicolas Maduro said that ABC had acted “as an attack centre around the topic of the president's health” due to its on-going speculation on the issue.
Meanwhile, a recent investigation highlighted that in the months of November and December only 21% of articles about Venezuela published in El País were actually written in the South American country. The report further found that 53% of the articles were written from Miami, United States, where El País’ Venezuela correspondent is based.
The Venezuelan government’s statement also drew attention to El País’ “unashamed” support of the short-lived 2002 coup against the Chavez government.