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Venezuela: The Censored Dossier

Categories: Latin America, Venezuela, Freedom of Speech

Update: Walter Martínez said that he and the people who support him are not defending a person; they are defending freedom of speech, and fighting corruption. Listen to the audio of Walter Martínez's statement [1]. Chávez himself called to the VTV interactive news show, La Hojilla, to tell journalist Mario Silva to stop supporting Walter Martínez. Listen to Chávez’ phone call [2].

For more than two decades, the best international news coverage in Venezuela television has been presented by Walter Martínez [3] on his half-hour, nightly show, Dossier. The Uruguay-born internationalist and journalist has worked in Venezolana de Television [4] – the government run television channel – alongside six administrations, enduring various political trends.

Last Thursday 15, Walter Martínez was reporting on the United Nations Assembly from Caracas, even though he was the official head of Venezuelan press before the UN, and he was authorized to be in the New York headquarters. On Thursday's program, Martínez made the point that false revolutionaries were controlling government-run media in Venezuela, as well as influential political positions. Excerpts from last Thursday Dossier [5] can be seen following the link in the pro-Chávez website, Aporrea.

On Friday, Dossier was taken off air. More coverage can be found at El espacio de Lubrio [6]. An ambiguous official statement from the Ministry of Communication and Information and VTV board of directors asked that Martínez appears before the National Attorney Office to present any charge against public administrators that he may have. The statement [7] also warns about the obligation to obey dispositions on responsible journalism included in the Radio and Television Social Accountability Law [8].

Luigino Bracci Roa—a Venezuelan pro-Chávez blogger—reports how the Bolivarian News Agency presented a distorted view [9] of a small demonstration asking VTV directive to stop censoring Dossier. Bracci conjectures “it appears like they (Bolivarian News Agency) got a call requesting to make the demonstration appear as illegitimate [10]”. According to Bracci—who says that he took part in the demonstration—, BNA portrayed the protest as it were smaller than it actually was, and stated that demonstrators were union members (1) when they where mostly housewives, students, and middle age white-collar workers. BNA also highlighted that private owned news channel Globovisión was covering the demonstration, and failed to report Martínez's remarks on the issue. Bracci pointed out that BNA claimed Globovisión as the opposition channel, implying that it was an opposition political show rather than a popular demonstration.

Comments on Lubrio’s blog entries [11] emphasize that the Dossier case is not the first censored news show in the Venezuelan government run media. Baquiano says, “dissidence and direct critique of the leader among his followers is inadmissible [within “personality cult” regimes] because admitting so means to give reason to the “enemy”. Alberto Farías claims, “this is your revolution, a big lies-bag, theft to the nation patrimony, emotional manipulation of people that are searching desperately for a way to improve their lives”. Some chavistas blame Blanca Eckhout (VTV President) and Mari Pili Hernández (officer in Venezuelan Embassy in U.S.) for Dossier suspension and remark that “they would like to have the credibility that this fellow [Martínez] has”.

The conversation is also taking place on other weblogs, such as Terreno Baldío [12], and EnigmasExpress [13].

1 Unions have got a somewhat bad reputation in Venezuela.