Mérida, 28th June 2013 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – Late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has been awarded Venezuela’s National Journalism Prize posthumously for his role in promoting alternative media and the democratisation of communication.
The prize was handed to Chavez’s daughter, Maria Chavez, by President Nicolas Maduro during a ceremony in Venezuela’s presidential palace last night.
Modaira Rubio, one of five journalists and academics on the panel which made the National Journalism Prize Foundation’s judgment, explained that “the history and practice of journalism in Venezuela can only be divided into two moments; before and after the Comandante Chavez”.
On the reasons behind the decision, she said that Chavez had “contributed to dismantling the myth” that “media [only] exist to inform”. “This is a half truth that hides the great problem of the class struggle and ownership of media in capitalism,” the panellist continued.
Rubio added that Chavez had “opened the eyes of millions of people all over the planet, making them understand that the great press outlets are at the service of the oligarchy and imperialism, and he [Chavez] undertook a great struggle for alternative communication and the democratisation of media”.
The decision has generated controversy both domestically and outside Venezuela. Opponents of Chavez’s government repeatedly accused the late president of “intimidating” or “threatening” the country’s private media outlets. They also refer to the decision to revoke the RCTV television network’s public broadcast licence in 2007 as evidence of “censorship” by the government.
Meanwhile supporters argue that outlets such as RCTV participated actively in attempts to destabilise and overthrow the Chavez government, and that private outlets still represent the majority of television, radio and print coverage in Venezuela.
The Chavez administration also supported community media, providing funding and training for ordinary people to start up their own radio and television outlets.
Hugo Chavez himself became known worldwide for his oratory and communication skills. His weekly Sunday show Alo Presidente and twitter account Chavezcandanga became closely followed media phenomena.
At last night’s ceremony, President Maduro responded to criticisms made of the decision by the country’s conservative opposition.
“They can make whatever criticisms they want, but to say that the Comandante Chavez doesn’t deserve recognition as a great communicator, a great polemicist, as a great democratic fighter of the ideas of the 21st century, is simply a baseless and petty expression,” he said.
The ceremony was held on Venezuela’s National Day of the Journalist, which marks the anniversary of the first edition of the Correo del Orinoco newspaper printed by the country’s 19th century founder and independence hero Simon Bolivar.
The award was not the first journalism prize given to Chavez, who died in March after a two year battle with cancer. In 2011 he was given the Rodolfo Walsh Prize by the Faculty of Journalism and Social Communication of the National University of La Plata, Argentina, for his role in promoting grassroots media.