A media focus on Hugo Chávez means the voices of the Venezuelan government's grassroots supporters are rarely heard
guardian.co.uk, Sunday 11 April 2010 10.00 BST
It is a little over 11 years since Hugo Chávez first assumed the presidency in Venezuela, following a landslide election victory that swept the country's discredited traditional parties out of power. Since then, Chávez has presided over a radical and controversial process of reforms that has been increasingly vilified by the mainstream media – and the English-language media has been no exception.
Rightwing outlets, such as Rupert Murdoch's Fox News channel, regularly refer to Chávez as a dictator, even though there have been 12 national elections during his time as president – most of which received unprecedented levels of scrutiny by international observers and were systematically deemed as free and fair.
More surprising for many has been the position taken towards the Chávez government by media outlets generally viewed as "liberal". For example,
the BBC has had its coverage of Venezuela questioned recently. In December 2009, researchers at the University of the West of England published the preliminary findings of a 10-year study.
Of 304 BBC reports concerning Venezuela published between 1998 and 2008, the researchers found that only three mentioned any of the Chavez government's positive reforms – such as poverty reduction programmes that have more than halved the poverty rate from 46.5% in 1998 to 23% in 2009. Instead the BBC's reporting has been characterised by insinuations that Chávez lacks electoral support, and even compared Chávez to Hitler in one instance. The research also suggested the BBC has fallen short of its commitment to impartiality, truth and accuracy.