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23 leading academics, authors and film-makers accuse New York Times of treating Latin American political leaders differently

By Roy Greenslade, The Guardian
Wednesday, May 22, 2013 8:18 EDT
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Chomsky, Stone and Moore sign petition urging editorial inquiry

Here’s a story that the New York Times has yet to carry. A petition, signed by 23 leading US academics, authors and film-makers, has been launched which urges the paper’s “public editor” to examine the Times’s inconsistent coverage of two Latin American countries.

They argue that there are disparities between its largely negative reporting on Venezuela during the presidency of Hugo Chávez (who died in March) and its less critical reporting on Honduras under its successive leaders, Roberto Micheletti and Porfirio Lobo.

Among the petition’s signatories are more than a dozen experts on Latin America and the media plus Noam Chomsky and Ed Herman, and the film directors Oliver Stone and Michael Moore. Here’s the full script of the petition…

Dear Margaret Sullivan,

In a recent column, you observed:

Although individual words and phrases may not amount to very much in the great flow produced each day, language matters. When news organisations accept the government’s way of speaking, they seem to accept the government’s way of thinking. In The Times, these decisions carry even more weight.

In light of this comment we encourage you to compare the New York Times’s characterisation of the leadership of the late Hugo Chávez in Venezuela and that of Roberto Micheletti and Porfirio Lobo in Honduras.

In the past four years, the Times has referred to Chávez as an “autocrat,” “despot,” “authoritarian ruler” and a “caudillo” in its news coverage. When opinion pieces are included, the Times has published at least 15 separate articles employing such language, depicting Chávez as a “dictator” or “strongman.”

Over the same period – since the June 28 2009 military overthrow of elected president Manuel Zelaya of Honduras – Times contributors have never used such terms to describe Micheletti, who presided over the coup regime after Zelaya’s removal, or Porfirio Lobo, who succeeded him.

Instead, the paper has variously described them in its news coverage as “interim,” “de facto,” and “new.”

Porfirio Lobo assumed the presidency after winning an election held under Micheletti’s coup government. The elections were marked by repression and censorship, and international monitors, like the Carter Centre, boycotted them. Since the coup, Honduras’s military and police have routinely killed civilians.

Over the past 14 years, Venezuela has had 16 elections or referenda deemed free and fair by leading international authorities. Jimmy Carter praised Venezuela’s elections, among the 92 the Carter Centre has monitored, as having “a very wonderful voting system.” He concluded that “the election process in Venezuela is the best in the world.”

While some human rights groups have criticised the Chávez government, Venezuela has had no pattern of state security forces murdering civilians, as is the case in Honduras.

Whatever one thinks of the democratic credentials of Chávez’s presidency – and we recognise that reasonable people can disagree about it – there is nothing in the record, when compared with that of his Honduran counterparts, to warrant the discrepancies in the Times’s coverage of the two governments.

We urge you to examine this disparity in coverage and language use, particularly as it may appear to your readers to track all too closely the US government’s positions regarding the Honduran government (which it supports) and the Venezuelan government (which it opposes) – precisely the syndrome you describe and warn against in your column.

Yours sincerely…

To see all 23 of the early signatories, and to sign the petition, go here

Sources: NYTimes eXaminer/North American Congress on Latin America

© Guardian News and Media 2013

 
 
 
 
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