Venezuelan government accuses international media of promoting "psychological war" with coverage of Chávez's health

By Isabela Fraga

The Venezuelan government accused the international media last week of promoting a "psychological war" with their coverage of president Hugo Chávez's health, who is suffering from a serious lung infection, Venezolana de Televisión reported.

"The government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela warns the Venezuelan people of a psychological war that the transnational media structure constructed regarding the health of the head of State with the purpose of destabilizing the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, undermining the people's will, which was manifested during the Oct. 7 presidential elections, and putting an end to the Bolivarian revolution led by Chávez," said Ernesto Villegas, communications and information minister for the country's ruling party, Poder Popular. Newspaper El Universal published a transcript of the broadcast.

The German website Deutsche Welle noted that the Venezuelan government's comments came a few days after vice president Nicolás Maduro said journalists had "miserable souls" for having spread rumors regarding Chávez's health. Maduro said that the majority of the country's population wants Chávez's health to improve but "there is a very venomous minority," composed by by "journalists from the ultra-right," that are following plans from outside of Venezuela to destabilize the country, reported Noticias24.

Maduro accused the Spanish newspaper ABC and the Colombian radio broadcaster Caracol of "disrepecting the people of Venezuela."  According to Deutsche Welle, Maduro spoke of an international media story that allegedly said Venezuela had been in touch with the United States to discuss an eventual return of drug enforcement authorities to the country. The National Journalists' Association of Venezuela (or CNP Caracas) rejected Maduro's declarations and asked the vice president to "tone down" his comments regarding Venezuelan journalists.

The relationship between the Venezuelan government and the national and international media has often been characterized by frictions and controversies. Journalism organizations in the country have accused authorities of pressuring media outlets to discontinue programs that are critical of the government. Meanwhile, the government has accused media outlets of inciting violence during the coverage of the Oct. 7 presidential elections. During the electoral period, accusations of attacks against journalists that supported both presidential candidates underscored the polarization of the country's press. Some journalism organizations called the obligatory transmission of official declarations on the country's TV and radio stations "continued censorship."  The Committee to Protect Journalists has said that Venezuela's private media has withered during the Chávez years.

Click here to see the Venezuelan government's video recording regarding Chávez's health.

Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.

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