A Journalism Prize to an Enemy of the Press?

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The decision to award the National Journalism Prize to the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is being met with incredulity in the U.S. Latino media. Chavez, who died in March from cancer, was accused of persecuting the press during his 14 years in power. Radio Caracas Televisión was shut down under his adminstration. Globovisión was bought out by Chavez suporters under the direction of Chávez’ successor, Nicolás Maduro. Editors of La Opinión write that the prize represents "a new show of disdain against freedom of expression in Venezuela."

The recent award of the National Journalism Prize to deceased President Hugo Chávez reflects how poorly independent journalism is doing in Venezuela.

Taking this nomination seriously is tough, whether because Chávez's government was known for extinguishing the voices of independent journalism; the ongoing and excessive personal adoration for the departed leader; or simply, as the National Association of Journalists of Venezuela pointed out when it rejected the award, because he was "not a journalist."

The reopening in 2009 of Correo del Orinoco—a newspaper that Simón Bolívar founded in 1818—reaffirmed Chávez's Bolivarian vision. However, creating a new outlet for the goverment is not a reason for this prize either.

Chávez's contributions to Venezuelan journalism have actually been greatly expanding media outlets favorable to the government, abusing the use of the official channel with extremely long partisan commentary and harassing his critics. That is the case specifically for the cancellation of RCTV's license and the sale of Globovisión.

The hostility against independent media outlets that Chávez had is increasingly visible in populist governments like the ones in Argentina and Ecuador, among others.

These democratically elected presidents tend to see those who report a reality different from what the government promotes as the enemy. They think that the popular vote makes them the owners of the truth and gives them the freedom to do what they want. Therefore, they behave as if journalists are their opponents.

Chávez, like any politician, has been a communicator interested in promoting his government and his public figure—but not a journalist. This prize is another inflated recognition of his persona and a new show of disdain against freedom of expression in Venezuela.

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