On one hand, Hugo Chavez was a loved and revered man, a towering figure who will be missed by many people in Venezuela and around the world. On the other hand, he was much criticized, and his motives were questioned by many.
For me, he was my country’s president. My view of this highly charismatic man was formed by my work as a young Venezuelan journalist, and I had the opportunity to be in his presence on three occasions.
I became a reporter in 1999, the year Mr. Chavez took power. Venezuela has had one president over the course of my entire career.
A journalist’s job is never easy in countries where human rights and freedoms are under threat. This has certainly been the case in Venezuela, where the practice of journalism has become increasingly risky and demanding.
During the course of my career, numerous national and international organizations have issued warnings about the undermining of freedoms in my country, primarily freedom of speech.
As a journalist, I have always been guided by a strong belief in freedom of thought and expression. I have worked for the past 12 years at Globovision, Venezuela’s only independent news channel, which is on air 24 hours a day.
Over the past seven years, the government has closed other several television and radio stations, leaving citizens with few avenues to express and access uncensored information. For example, in 2007, the government shut down Radio Caracas Television, the biggest, oldest and most important station in the country.
Mr. Chavez has left us with a legacy of government control over virtually all of Venezuela’s broadcast media – either direct control, through state ownership or sponsorship, or indirect, through repressive media laws. At the same time, his supporters contend that the opposition actually controls 95 per cent of all media.
The government has used new broadcasting laws to target my own network. Right now, Globovision is facing no fewer than eight investigations by Conatel, the national telecommunications commission, for alleged infractions of the law’s vague public order provisions.
One of these investigation resulted in Globovision being fined $2.1-million – 7.5 per cent of the station’s gross income.
The most recent investigation was launched in January, after Globovision ran a series of reports focusing on articles of the Venezuelan constitution pertaining to presidential succession. Mr. Chavez’s government prohibited rebroadcasting the reports or similar ones.
In my view, the mission of a journalist, especially in a situation like Venezuela’s, is to remind citizens of the rule of law and the rights that protect them. In my investigative journalism, I’ve paid close attention to events affecting the social fabric of Venezuelan society. This has meant pursuing cases of government corruption, always insisting that the the goverment and its institutions fulfill their duties.
There no question that Mr. Chavez understood the power of media. He cleverly used radio and television to build a relationship with his supporters. He made a public spectacle of running the country through the thousands of hours he spent on his television show Aló Presidente and on other broadcasts. It’s important to know that these other speeches were and still are mandatory for broadcasters to run.
I will always remember Mr. Chavez as the toughest interview for a Venezuelan journalist. He liked to speak, but he hated answering questions.
Mary Triny Mena is the 2012-13 Scotiabank/CJFE Journalism Fellow.