Almost on queue, the mainstream press coverage of the passing of Hugo Chavez followed a predictable pattern. The underlying agenda is that any leader who seriously challenges US hegemony will receive abuse from less than independent thinking journalists and commentators.
Following the death of Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez on March 5, the BBC reported from the funeral:
‘More than 30 world leaders attended the ceremony, including Cuban President Raul Castro, Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus.
‘A message was read out from Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.’
A rogues’ gallery of the West’s ‘bad guys’, in other words. To the side of the main article, the BBC quietly noted that, in fact, ‘Most Latin American and Caribbean Presidents’ attended the funeral, not just the Bond villains.
Following the same theme, a BBC article appeared beneath a grim photo montage of Osama bin Laden, Chávez, Kim Jong-il, Muammar Gaddafi, Fidel Castro and Saddam Hussein. The report asked: ‘Is the era of the anti-American bogeymen at an end?’
Like many independent nationalists, Chávez was not ‘anti-American’, although he was anti-empire. US foreign policy, on the other hand, was certainly anti-Chávez, ‘variously portrayed as a six-times elected champion of the people or a constitution-fiddling demagogue’, the BBC piece noted.
Similar ‘balance’ was offered by the Guardian’s Rory Carroll, lead author of the newspaper’s Venezuelan coverage between 2006-2012:
‘To the millions who revered him – a third of the country, according to some polls – a messiah has fallen, and their grief will be visceral. To the millions who detested him as a thug and charlatan, it will be occasion to bid, vocally or discreetly, good riddance.’
Fair comment, one might think, until we try to imagine a UK journalist writing anything comparable to the second sentence in response to the death of a US president or UK prime minister.
And yet, unlike so many US and UK leaders of recent times, Chávez did not invade nations, overthrow governments, commit mass murder, mass torture, or mass starvation through sanctions. Indeed, in his years as president from 1999-2013 he was not credibly accused of a single political murder.
If it is to be considered fair, condemnation of Chávez should be proportionate to the extent of his alleged crimes and consistent with the level of condemnation directed at US-UK leaders’ far worse crimes. If Chávez gets much more for doing far less, we are in the realm of propaganda, not journalism.
To be consistent, then, a senior Guardian journalist should respond to the death of George H.W. or George W. Bush, for example, with something along these lines:
‘To the tens or hundreds of millions who detested him as a mass murdering and torturing thug, war criminal and charlatan, it will be occasion to bid, vocally or discreetly, good riddance.’
Fairness also requires that reporters take account of the fact that recent US presidents and UK prime ministers have not had to govern small countries in the face of political, military and economic attacks – including guerrilla warfare, outright invasion, economic strangulation and terrorism – launched, over decades, by a global superpower.
What lies behind the Western media’s obsession with Chávez? Why the extreme hostility and bias? A clue was provided by the Guardian when it observed that Venezuela is sitting on ‘The world’s biggest oil reserves’.
In discussing Chávez, Craig Murray, former British Ambassador to Uzbekistan, summed up the reality:
‘He applied the huge increase in revenues to massively successful poverty alleviation via social programmes, housing and education.
‘The western states of course do everything to stop developing countries doing this, on behalf of the multinationals who control the politicians. They threaten (and I am an eye-witness) aid cancellation, disinvestment and trade sanctions. They work to make you a political pariah (just watch the media on Chávez today). They secretly sponsor, bankroll and train your opponents. The death of such “dangerous” leaders is a good outcome for them, as in Allende or Lumumba.
‘Chávez faced them down. There are millions of people in Venezuela whose hard lives are a bit better and have hope for the future because of Chávez. There are billionaires in London and New York who have a few hundred million less each because of Chávez. Nobody can deny the truth of both those statements.’
One of the great tasks of our time is to appreciate how these undeniable realities distort coverage right across the supposed corporate media ‘spectrum’. Our ability to understand and respond to this problem is vital for the future, not just of Venezuela, but of all of us.