Sunday, 30 October 2016

Why the BBC World Service reports so clumsily about Venezuela?

This is not about "right versus left journalism". This is about basic journalism in the XXI century.

BBC wants to be seen as objective, so when there is a conflict somewhere in the world its journalists very ostensibly report that one side said this and the other said that. The thing is: that might be enough for primary school journalism but it takes more if you want to do proper analysis of what is happening in the world. At this moment the World Service is often acting exactly like the German tabloid magazine Focus, which many years ago wanted to compete against weekly Spiegel claiming to be "about facts, letting the reader make his or her own mind". 

You have to do more than give a summary of quotations for each side. You need to have a basic understanding of economics. You need to know about the country's history. If you keep reporting about countries without some understanding of how inflation happens, if you do not understand what money supply is, if you cannot explain what factors influence productivity and if you do not take the time to find out about how the trade balance of that country has evolved throughout decades, you should really focus on reporting about sports or fashion.

Let's first go to some examples of how BBC World fails when it comes to reporting about Venezuela.

Take this article from January 2016 and this one from yesterday, 28 October 2016. In both texts BBC states the opposition is a "centre-right movement".

If you do some basic homework you will find the main parties representing the opposition are:
1- Primero Justicia, a centre-right indeed...even if economically speaking it might as well be a Catholic "social democrat" because Venezuelans are used to that for decades
2- Acción Democrática, a centre-left party member of the Socialist International
3- UNT, a centre-left party member of the Socialist International
4- Voluntad Popular, a centre-left party member of the Socialist International
5- Causa Radical, a centre-left-left party - one I have voted for

And then there are a few other tiny groups, both social democrats and rather "liberal to centre right".

All in all it is a coalition of parties from left to right and if you make the effort and count the deputies representing each you will see no one group prevails.

What is so difficult to understand?

The BBC journalist who wrote the last article did not mention the government-friendly National Electoral Council has constantly changed the rules for the referendum. He does not mention the very public threats by government officials against anyone who would sign the petition for the referendum. He does not mention oil production in Venezuela has been dropping for years and that the opposition has been demanding an investigation of the main guy in charge of oil production because of the disappearance of 11 billion dollars, among other things.

The BBC journalist does not discuss the fact the government has kept several exchange rates in place with a highly overvalued local currency. He or she does not mention governors' elections have been postponed without any explanation and against what the constitution says. He or she does not say the government threatened to expropriate those shops that joined the strike.

The BBC journalist did not care to find out what social programmes were in place in Venezuela in the seventies, in the eighties, in the nineties. When you read BBC World Service you get the impression it was Chávez who introduced social programmes in Venezuela or that his programmes were more effective than previous ones.

The BBC World Service might be a bit better than FOX News or CNN...but not much, really. Sometimes it does a bad journalistic job because it is, after all, an extension of the Foreign Office. That has been the case when it misreported as it did during the Biafra war or during the Iraq War. Misreporting is part of their job sometimes - as with Biafra-. Sometimes it is just sloppiness. I think that is the case for Venezuela and some other countries in Latin America: BBC just keeps a bunch of journalists with a weak command of the Spanish language and who are not very keen on looking at charts - too much mathematics for them.

If you want to read new about Venezuela in English you'd better go to Reuters or Bloomberg or even lefty The Guardian.

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