Written by Jonathan Scott on March 13, 2013.
Since the death of Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez last week, those who follow the media have heard a range of opinions about him as a person, his time in office, and the efficacy of his policies.
We’ve heard from British Leftists, American Rightists, Venezualan Americans and, moving away from the mainstream media, American Venezuelans. There are a range of angles taken on the life of Hugo Chavez, some of them quite bizarre.
Chavez invested Venezuela’s oil wealth into social programs including state-run food markets, cash benefits for poor families, free health clinics and education programs. But those gains were meager compared with the spectacular construction projects that oil riches spurred in glittering Middle Eastern cities, including the world’s tallest building in Dubai and plans for branches of the Louvre and Guggenheim museums in Abu Dhabi. - Associated Press, March 05 2013
If we look more carefully we can find opinions from Venezuelans actually living in Venezuela. But to accept these views as representative of the people is to fail to understand the limitations of this type of journalism.
Though it has been improving, the internet still has very limited penetration when looked at from a global perspective. In the UK, a rather more developed country than Venezuela, 15% of the population have never used the internet, every one of them earning less than £500 per week (ONS, 2013).
In Venezuela, only 42% of the population have access to the internet (CONATEL, 2013). Though they don’t break down the figures by income level it’s a good bet the majority of this 42% is made up of wealthy people.
Adding to this problem is the fact that, thought it is taught in Venezuelan schools, English is not spoken to a good degree by a large proportion of the population. Wealthy people are far more likely to have to time and resources to learn a foreign language.
This adds up to placing a high barrier to entry for people wishing to add to the story. The web has been claimed to be capable of giving power to the people, democratising the news process and to increase representation of minority groups. But due to the requirement that people commenting on Hugo Chavez both have internet access and speak English, we’re excluding people who have a unique perspective and very valid points to make.
If we’re to claim that the media is telling ‘the truth’ then they need to be able to get information from the people on the ground. To be able to find out what poor Venezuelans actually think of Chavez, we need to find ways to allow them to contribute to the debate for themselves. Rich compatriots and sympathetic foreigners are no substitute.
- ONS. (2013, February). Internet Access Quarterly Update, Q4 2012. Retrieved from http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/rdit2/internet-access-quarterly-update/2012-q4/stb-ia-2012-q4.html
- CONATEL. (2013, January). SERVICIO DE INTERNET INDICADORES AÑOS 1998 - 2012. Retrieved from http://www.conatel.gob.ve/files/Indicadores/indicadores_2012_anual/internet_13.pdf