By Isabela Fraga
Already marked by polarization during the administration of Hugo Chávez, the media environment in Venezuela is now fueling political disputes following the troubled presidential election on April 14, between Chávez's appointed successor, Nicolás Maduro, and opposition candidate Henrique Capriles.
BBC Mundo reporter Abraham Zamorano said opposing viewpoints of the election are seen in the broadcasts of Venezuelan Television (VTV) and the private networks. On public stations the opposition appears violent, while on channels like Globovisión--which has a notoriously bad relationship with the state--the government is portrayed manipulating votes and inciting violence.
In an April 25 report, for example, VTV announced, "Capriles' attack on Venezuela's democracy has become more violent," referring to the defeated candidate's comments to the Electoral Council. Four days later, Globovisión published an article from Deputy Nora Brancho, who said "the illegitimate presidency of Nicolás Maduro calls democracy into question."
In an attempt to understand the extreme media polarization in Venezuela, sociologist and media analyst Maryclean Stelling told Zamorano, "It's not that the tension came to the media, the media are part of the tension--they report on it and fuel it."
On April 24, Article 19 warned about weakening freedom of expression in Venezuela due to confrontations between pro and anti-government supporters following the April 14 election. When Maduro said country's media should choose to "be on the side of the nation, of peace and the people [...] or on the side of fascism and violence," Article 19 director for South America, Paula Martins, said:
It's troubling that Maduro blames the media for the post-election violence and forces outlets to support the president. The president's statement encourages self-censorship in the media, intimidates journalists and human rights defenders, and reduces the country's democratic space.
In defense of public media, Venezuelan Minister of Information and Communications Ernesto Villegas commented on April 29 about the "information vacuum" left by the private media after the violence that occurred the day after the presidential election. At least nine individuals identified as pro-Chávez died.
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.