The importance of independent journalism in a bought and sold world has never been more important. Being on the payroll of a government department – I was recently discussing with a prominent old-time reporter about the number of corporate journalists providing information to intelligence services – means that transparency is lacking.
US State Department documents declassified under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) evidence more than $4 million USD in funding to journalists and private media in Venezuela during the last three years. This funding is part of the more than $40 million USD international agencies are investing annually in anti-Chavez groups in Venezuela in an attempt to provoke regime change.
The funding has been channeled directly by the State Department through three US agencies: Panamerican Development Foundation (PADF), Freedom House, and the US Agency for International Development (USAID).
In a blatant attempt to hide their activities, the State Department has censored the names of organizations and journalists receiving these multimillion-dollar funds. However, one document dated July 2008 mistakenly left unveiled the names of the principal Venezuelan groups receiving the funds: Espacio Publico (Public Space) and Instituto de Prensa y Sociedad (Institute for Press and Society “IPYS”).
Espacio Publico and IPYS are the entities charged with coordinating the distribution of the millions in State Department funds to private media outlets and Venezuelan journalists working to promote US agenda.
The documents evidence that PADF has implemented programs in Venezuela dedicated to “enhancing media freedom and democratic institutions” and training workshops for journalists in the development and use of “innovative media technologies”, due to the alleged “threats to freedom of expression” and “the climate of intimidation and self-censorship among journalists and the media”.
According to the documents, PADF’s objective is to “strengthen independent journalists by providing them with training, technical assistance, materials and greater access to innovative internet-based technologies that expand and diversify media coverage and increase their capacity to inform the public on a timely basis about the most critical policy issues impacting Venezuela”.
However, while on paper this may appear benign, in reality, Venezuela’s corporate media outlets and journalists, together with US agencies, actively manipulate and distort information in order to portray the Venezuelan government as a “communist dictatorship” that “violates basic human rights and freedoms”.
What these documents demonstrate is that Washington not only is funding Venezuelan media, in clear violation of laws that prohibit this type of “propaganda” and “foreign interference”, but also is influencing the way Venezuelan journalists perceive their profession and their political reality.
The State Department funding is not just used to create and aid media outlets that promote anti-Chavez propaganda, but also to capture Venezuelan journalists at the core – as students – in order to shape their vision of journalism and ensure their loyalty early on to US agenda.