My friend Diego Arria, former special adviser to Kofi Annan, responds very well to the issues at stake concerning the irresponsible Reuters coverage of the Venezuelan referendum. More than any other news organizations, the wires have the important task of reporting exactly what happens during elections, especially in countries where democracyand freedom are at stake. Otherwise, they risk validating the sometimes deplorable actions of governments with totalitarian tendencies. Journalists could learn much from this latest episode in unacceptable reporting: Reuters failed, not only its international clients, but theVenezuelan people.
Read below.Alex Beech Reuters Why we are taking heat in VenezuelaDecember 5th, 2007, filed by Sean Maguire Venezuela is a passionate place and its politics are particularly feisty. The fervent supporters of President Hugo Chavez's socialist revolution pit themselves against equally fervent opponents who believe he is driving the country to dictatorship and ruin. In such an atmosphere the local press becomes deeply politicised and many readers look outside to international news organisations to give them a balanced view in tumultuous times. That's a role that Reuters takes very seriously. For several hours before official results of Sunday's referendum were released, Reuters reported senior government sources saying that Chavez was winning a vote that would allow him to contest elections for life and enshrine socialism as a state priority in the constitution. The sources were impeccable, including three cabinet ministers who had been correct in the past and who cited exit polls and early returns. The ministers told us Chavez was ahead by a hefty 6-8 points. An independent source also told us we were on the right track. But they were proved wrong. Chavez was defeated. We've received many emails accusing us of a breach of trust, off avouritism and of incompetence. You'll find a selection on the blogwhere we post reader comment.Our mistake was not in using sources to get a beat on the story. We followed our own sourcing rules properly. We made clear that oursources were linked to the government and that we had talked toseveral senior figures. We specified where they said they had theirinformation from. We also made strenuous efforts to get the opposition's point of view. But for a couple of hours we were unable to get them to comment. Forsome readers that left the impression that Reuters backed the government's interpretation of events. As the story developed and opposition conviction grew that the government's numbers were wrong, we were slow to give the change theattention it merited. Some other news organizations emphasised that the vote was too close to call. In retrospect, it was an approach weshould have taken. We have provided comprehensive and distinguished coverage of the referendum, one of the most important stories in recent months in Latin America. We believe our reporting has been balanced and fair. Our stories strive to explain clearly why Chavez is loved and loathed in equal measure. We erred in this one instance, not from favouritism towards the Chavez government, but because we fell away from the high standards we set ourselves. Thank you to all the readers who questioned our coverage. Copyright Reuters. This entry was posted on Wednesday, December 5th,2007 at 8:54 am and is filed under Reuters Editors. You can follow anyresponses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave aresponse, or trackback from your own site.responses to "Why we are taking heat in Venezuela"Please note that comments should not be regarded as the views of Reuters_______________
Diego E. Arria says: D ecember 9th, 2007 at 4:21 am GMTI want to thank you for sending me the link to Sean Maguire's report after the many complaints received by Reuters-mine I believe was the first one of them right after first Reuters news break which few hours later reminded your readers of the famous victory of Dewey over Truman. The three Ministers that allegedly provided such information to your journalists violated the law . The Reuters journalists failed to ask them why were they violating the electoral law, and evidently showed unethical indifference to the laws of our country. Furthermore the alleged polling companies that carried the exit polls were not checked by the journalists. Neither did they look for officials representatives of the NO campaign as they should have. I believe you should ask them the names of the NO representatives they claim were not available to comment. A fact which we are doubtful took place. I find extremely distressing the journalists statement that their "sources were impeccable, including three cabinet ministers who had been correct in the past and who cited exit polls and early returns. The ministers told us Chavez was ahead by a hefty 6-8 points. An independent source also told us we were on the right track." ForReuters to call an autocratic regime impeccable and objective is truly amazing –to say the least. We the Venezuelan people were about to lose our liberty and ourdemocracy on December 2nd when Chavez attempted a coup against our Constitution and Reuters should have realized the significance oftheir reporting to our circumstances to base their report " on three cabinet ministers" who could not be objective-and to cite and independent as another source but no representatives of the opposition should indicate that there was foul play against the Venezuelan democrats and in blatant favor of the regime. As you remember in thepast presidential elections of December 2006 we faced similar issueswith the Reuters reporting on the campaign which I brought then toyour attention as suggested by Reuters Chairman Niall FitzGerald. Finally it is clear-and Mr.Maguire does not address the fact- that those journalists showed complete disregard for the electoral laws, independence, neutrality and journalistic ethics. All these elements combined could have caused great damage to the Venezuelan democracyand our liberty.You must know by now that the regime used the Reuters report to starta massive campaign of disinformation-based on the prestige of Reuters-something that the journalists that reported this false information also disregarded. The Reuters report of the false victoryby the SI (Chavez) allowed the regime to hold the announcement of theNO victory by several hours when our future was hanging by a thread and risked peoples reactions in the streets of our country where many could have died. Undoubtedly the Reuters report emboldened Chavez and his regime. Reuters was the only agency besides the Chavez regime to report such false information.
Diego E. Arria