Australia: ABC TV's `Foreign Correspondent' program censors Venezuela's majority

By the Australia-Venezuela Solidarity Network

August 12, 2009 -- The Australian Broadcasting Corporation's Foreign Correspondent current affairs TV program screened on August 11, titled “Hugo Chavez: Total Control” did nothing to shore up the ABC’s reputation for well-informed, accurate reporting. Eric Campbell's report from Venezuela was riddled with inaccuracies, half-truths and transparent biases that need to be corrected.

The program’s main message –- that President Hugo Chavez is “the dominator… aiming for total control” in Venezuela -– is the stock-standard propaganda being peddled by a mainstream media that refuses to recognise or reflect the voices of the poor majority in Venezuela.

What  “evidence” does Foreign Correspondent present for Chavez’s supposed megalomania?

Campbell says, “Millions of poor people see Hugo Chavez as a saint … taking money from the rich and giving it to them”. Indeed! Chavez’s popularity is based upon his willingness to put the needs of Venezuela's majority -– who for hundreds of years have been exploited and disenfranchised –- ahead of those of business elites, and to use the country's natural oil wealth to improve living conditions for most, rather than line the pockets of a tiny elite.

Under Chavez's leadership, a 50% increase in social welfare spending in 1999-2005 was accompanied by decreases in infant mortality, an increase in school enrolment (according to the United Nations, illiteracy has been eradicated in Venezuela) and a decrease in poverty.

By 2005, approximately 50% of the Venezuelans enjoyed government health-care and food subsidies. Between 2000 and 2008, enrolments in higher education more than doubled. In the six years to 2009, according to internationally recognised poverty measures, poverty has been reduced from 55.1% to 25.3%. Extreme poverty has been reduced by 72%. (A comprehensive assessment is available in the US Center for Economic and Policy Research’s 2009 report, The Chavez Administration at 10 Years: The Economy and Social Indicators.)

In the words of one of the very few ordinary working people interviewed by Foreign Correspondent, “In all ways [Chavez] is a president that worries about his people”.

But, Campbell says, after a referendum this year that enabled Venezuelan presidents to be re-elected beyond three terms, Chavez can now “keep running for president until he dies!”. Well, so can any Australian prime minister. And if it is the people’s will, why not? That's democracy. Foreign Correspondent doesn't even attempt to explain how it is that this supposed dictator can be democratically elected and re-elected in 1998, 2000, 2004 and 2006, in ballots certified as transparent and legitimate by international monitors.

Still not deterred by the facts, Campbell goes on to assert that “managing the message and clobbering the media have become a Chavez obsession”.

In fact, there is much more oppositional media in Venezuela than in Australia, and a much greater range of debate in the media. The vast majority of Venezuela's media is privately owned. Before the government acted this month to enforce Venezuela's telecommunications law -– handing over the expired licences of 32 privately owned radio stations and two regional television stations to community media -­– just  27 families controlled more than 32% of the radio and television waves; many owned 10  to 20 stations. These rich families ensured that the media is a political player, routinely broadcasting reporting that would not be allowed in Australia (such as calls for violent protests and insurrection, and, as broadcast recently by privately owned Globovision TV, a call for Chavez to be “lynched”).

Foreign Correspondent claims that Chavez’s “autocratic socialism is jeopardising the benefits of his revolution”. This misses the point that it is not Chavez’s revolution, but the Venezuelan people’s. Beyond Campbell’s “beleaguered middle class” (which all the statistics reveal is actually earning more than ever) is a thriving network of “social missions” and communal councils that are creating a new participatory democracy in Venezuela that, for all the problems that persist in a country that for centuries was bled dry by a wealthy, corrupt elite, creates the possibility for genuine majority rule in Venezuela.

We urge the ABC to revisit the Bolivarian revolution with open ears, eyes and mind, and give viewers the opportunity to hear the voices of the majority in Venezuela.

[Contact the Australia-Venezuela Solidarity Network at info [at] or visit]

Presumably the aim is not merely to criticise the apparent bias shown by this programme towards the situation in Venezuela, but also to ensure that future reporting is fairer.

Articles in Links are us talking to ourselves - but "we" are a small audience. You need to be talking to the public, just as `Foreign Correspondent' was doing. You do much better to try and prevent such bias in future than making a little noise about one programme.

To achieve that result, a logical approach would be to submit a formal complaint to the ABC’s Audience & Consumer Affairs section (at; there are hyperlinks to various ABC policies). There is nothing stopping you from contacting all the ABC newscaff programmes, just to be sure the message spreads.

It is open to Venezuela support groups (the more the better) to take the complaint to the Complaints Review Executive if A&CA rejects it, then to the Independent Complaints Review Panel. That's what Senator Alston (once Howard Govt Minister for Communications and ABC Standover Man) did with his 67 or so (some came and some went) complaints of ABC coverage of the invasion of Iraq. It worked reasonably well - though it must have helped that he was the Minister!

Doing all that will take time, effort, and patience, but the rewards are permanent. Nothing venture, nothing gain. You get nowt for nowt.

Bear in mind that bad reporting is not necessarily deliberate bias. Like many travellers, ABC overseas correspondents often manage to live in foreign countries without ever absorbing the idea that Western middle-class consumerist ideals may not always apply. Monica Attard, for instance, can both read and speak Russian, yet during her time covering the collapse of the USSR clearly never understood that a lot of people genuinely believed v dushka (at heart) in Soviet state socialism.

During the Israeli war crimes against Gaza, I phoned I think it was 'PM' to point out that they hadn’t interviewed anyone from Hamas, even though to seek comment from all involved parties is part of the Editorial Policies. The person I spoke to agreed, and indicated that they just hadn’t thought of it, and would try to do so.

Our ABC is also, unfortunately, under a lot of pressure both from limited resources (especially for Radio National) and a conservative Hard Right management.

Quality requires quality resources, quality people, and a management committed to quality. Both in its lack of any obvious scrutiny of the stories that come its way, and its trivialisation and sensationalism, ABC News and Current Affairs generally seems more and more like a centrefold Murdoch tabloid. It has also been said that “there are a lot of people now in particularly Local Radio, who've never had training as a journalist [but] who are asked to do interviews with politicians, [and] with various members of the community”. Not only are most middle managers recruited from outside the ABC (thus usually having a commercial media culture), but also staff cuts generally have substantially reduced the expertise and supervision available.

ABC MD Mark Scott has made it quite clear that there will be money for the new News facilities (a 24/7 News service, content that the ABC will then be selling to pay TV, shopping centres, mobile phone companies, etc), but that Radio National and NewsRadio will have at best nothing more. Foreign Correspondent is under the News & Current Affairs umbrella, and has itself suffered substantial cuts over the last six years.

Links has some seriously quality journalism, like GLW. Don't hide it, use it. "Klotzen, nicht kleckern" (Hit them, don't tap them), as one exponent of assertive action once put it.