Wednesday, January 15, 2003

Just a few miles from here, across the Gulf of Paria, Venezuela is falling apart. I've posted nothing these last few months on the state of affairs in T&T's nearest neighbour; not because of a lack of interest, but because I don't feel well-informed enough to add anything useful to the pro-Chávez/anti-Chávez debate (&, frankly, haven't had the time to investigate much).

Francisco Toro is a Venezuelan journalist living in Caracas; a few months ago he started a blog called Caracas Chronicles, to give "a blow-by-blow account of the twists and turns of Chávez-era Venezuela" (discovered via Maciej Ceglowski). Toro used to report on Venezuela for the NY Times, but on Monday he resigned, saying, "For better or for worse, my country's democracy is in peril now, and I can't possibly be neutral about that." He's anti-Chávez, in other words, but more thoughtful & far more reasonable than most of the opposition voices we've been hearing in the press. I hope my half-dozen readers will take a look at his blog; start, for instance, with his analysis of the present state of the Venezuelan media (his permalinks aren't working; scroll about halfway down the page):

The Venezuelan press, including the magazine I write for, long ago decided that Chávez had screwed up so much that they're allowed to play rough with him. For better or for worse, they've concluded that this government is incompatible with ongoing democracy, and that the imperative to fight the enemies of democracy overrides the standard dictates of journalistic ethics. So the private media here barely pay lip service to notions like journalistic balance anymore. Their raison d’etre is to undermine the government. To the extent that informing the public fits in with that, they'll inform the public. But in cases where it doesn't, they won't.

The resulting stream of viscerally antichavista pap on the TV and in the newspapers is far from the kind of journalism I want to practice ... even if, substantively, I agree with many of the criticisms levelled. The problem is that what the local press is producing is not really journalism at all, it's propaganda disguised as journalism. Who knows? Maybe they're right to act that way. Maybe when faced with a government as dangerous to democracy as this one, one's duty as a citizen overwhelms one's duty as a journalist. That's a philosophical question; I'm not sure what the answer is.

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