News anchor Reimy Chavez quit his job at Venezuela’s Globovision TV on air last week. In an interview published today, Chavez says he quit because he feared he was becoming an “accomplice to censorship.”
Globovision was an independent, opposition friendly TV network, but that changed last year when, under legal pressure, the owners sold it to three businessmen with close ties to President Maduro’s government. The editorial stance of the channel changed almost immediately with the channel refusing to carry speeches by Maduro’s opponent Henrique Capriles as he sought to contest the narrow election results (Maduro won by 1%).
Since then more than 50 journalists have quit or been fired from Globovision. In an interview with Fusion TV, former anchor Reimy Chavez describes what it was like working at Globovision:
So what were the most frustrating things at Globovision?
There was a lot of censorship within Globovision. They are very
complacent with the [venezuelan] government. For example, they totally
lost all notion of what breaking news means. Every afternoon we had to
broadcast the signal of the state TV channel, to see what the president
or other public officials were saying, even if it was not newsworthy.
On top of that you couldn’t say words like ‘food shortages’, barricades, repression, those type of terms were forbidden.
So the language that you used was controlled?
It was controlled yes. Then on Feb. 12th, the first day that the
[anti-government] protests in Caracas turned deadly, we were on the air
for hours, without saying anything about what was going on, we were in
absolute silence about what was happening.
We were only allowed to address the situation when the Attorney General
gave an official statement on TV, so what we did was to tune into VTV’s
[The State-run TV channel’s] signal.
The final straw for Chavez was when he suggested running an investigative report asking whether the protests were “popular clamor or soft coup attempt.” His supervisor approved the idea saying it would be good because in the end he would find that it was in fact a coup attempt. This just happens to be the position favored by the government and often alluded to by President Maduro. Chavez said he was offended that “the manager of a 24-hour-news channel tells me what the conclusion of my investigation will be.”
Chavez tells Fusion he believes most electronic media in Venezuela is experiencing this same censorship (or self-censorship). He says there is a bit more freedom in the print media but notes “newspapers [critical of the government] are constantly audited by
officials, and if there are any problems with their finances, they are
hit with hefty fines.”
Asked if he has any regrets about quitting his job, Chavez says he does not saying he has found peace of mind. “I no longer have to wonder if I will be morally in debt to my country, for having been an accomplice to censorship.”
Chavez decision to quit Globovision on air is similar to the decision made by RT anchor Liz Wahl who citied the Kremlin-run news channel’s “whitewash” of the invasion of Crimea as her reason for leaving. Interviews with several former RT staffers reveal a network characterized by top-down censorship similar to what Chavez describes at Globovision.
It’s worth noting that Chavez’ description of the media landscape in Venezuela is at odds with that given by some writers abroad. Mark Weisbrot, who writes for the Guardian, has argued that Venezuelan TV does cover to the opposition. In fact, he cites three segments from Globovision as proof that the opposition is being given its due on the nation’s TV channels. Clearly Mr. Chavez has a very different view of how Globovision operates.