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Venezuela's media is caught in a vicious circle

Outlets supporting Hugo Chavez proliferate under the media-savvy president.

Opposition channels had a significant bias against the government’s proposal but allowed a few more neutral and pro-government points of view, the study said.

The balance rises further in the government’s favor given Chavez's use of a law that allows him to interrupt all terrestrial broadcasting to televise his public appearances. The law was originally set up to allow the president to make important public announcements, but Canizales said Chavez has abused it. A report by Reporters Without Borders found that Chavez exercised the law 1,816 times in 10 years, talking for 1,179 hours — the equivalent of 49 consecutive days.

Chavez has even expanded into international news, launching TeleSUR in 2005 as a foil to CNN’s Spanish-language station, which dominates the region. The channel receives some investment from the left-wing governments of Argentina, Cuba, Ecuador and Nicaragua but most of the funding comes from the Venezuelan state. It has an audience of 100 million and is broadcast through much of Latin America, Europe and North Africa.

Headquartered in a state-of-the-art building in the east of Caracas, with two studios with robotic cameras, TeleSUR is unabashedly left-wing, said its president, Andres Izarra.

“We are an institution that is obliged to give the other side in this media circus in Venezuela where there is an overwhelming hostility by the commercial media,” he said. “[We are here] to balance or defeat the media circus from which our process suffers daily.”

Izarra said teleSUR has an “independent editorial line” with no interference from Chavez and cited teleSUR's regular invitations to those with opposing points of view as evidence of its journalistic integrity.

Izarra has fought on both sides of this media war. He worked as production manager for RCTV before he resigned after criticizing its editorial line during the 2002 coup attempt. He has been president of teleSUR since 2005, and simultaneously served as minister of communication for Chavez's government. He left that position in 2008.

He defended VTV’s editorial bias because channels such as Globovison are equally partisan. He refuted the argument that there is a stronger case for the state media to remain neutral because it is funded by oil revenues and taxpayers’ money.

“These private channels that don't air any other opinions and who reach a quantity of citizens daily are on public airwaves that belong to everyone and you can't get them off it,” he said. “They abuse public airspace and we use public airspace to defend ourselves.”

Lopez, of CatiaTVe, said that community TV reflected the true concerns and aspirations of Venezuela's poor communities and that the private, or commercial, media only reported negatively about his community.

The media war, it seems, has reached a standoff, with neither side willing to give way. “We're in a vicious circle,” Canizalez said. “Because the private media is biased, the public media does not feel obliged to be fair. The government could set an example which would give it more license criticize the private media.”

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Hugo Chavez scores victory to extend term

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