The Freedom Chat Transcripts: More from Venezuelan Journalist Andrea Daza Tapia
Last week Sampsonia Way released its third installment of The Freedom Chat, which shares the voices and stories of journalists from around the world through video chats. Our third video featured Venezuelan journalist Andrea Daza Tapia, who currently lives in Barcelona, Spain. The interview was conducted by Sampsonia Way intern Kitoko Chargois. You can watch the video here. Below is more of Sampsonia Way’s interview with Daza.
Andrea Daza Tapia left Venezuela three years ago to pursue a Masters in Journalism at the Blanquerna School of Communication in Barcelona, Spain. From afar she continues to report on her home country of Venezuela. Her writing can be found at her blog, La Azotacalles, and at Prodavinci.com.
Can you tell me about your experience as a journalist before you left Venezuela three years ago?
My experience working as a journalist has always been under Chávez, and it was like working in a minefield. Venezuela is a divided country and journalists are caught in the middle.
What are the biggest challenges facing journalists in Venezuela?
Our constitution has a few articles that state that information should be accessible to citizens, but when we ask for information we get denied. The government delays answering, hoping you don’t keep asking, or they say you’re not asking the correct department, and they make you go around in circles.
A group of organizations, including the Press and Society Institute of Venezuela (IPYS), Transparency International, and Espacio Público, formed Coalición ProAcceso, which is a Venezuelan coalition working for the principles of freedom of information: Maximum disclosure, transparency in the management of public resources, free access to public information, and speedy access to government information. This coalition identified 22 laws which restricted free information, and they have helped journalists to prosecute.
Can you give me some examples of how this has impacted journalism?
In December 2008, Carlos Subero sent a letter to the Electoral Council demanding information on the financing of political parties and campaigns. He wanted to prove that the state uses government resources to win elections. Subero, who is a very experienced journalist, was told his request was done incorrectly, and the National Electoral Council rejected his request. He filed a constitutional complaint, and the National Council never answered. He was the first journalist to bring a case regarding freedom of information to court.
In late March, there was a police raid on a journalist’s home. Mildred Manrique, a journalist for 2001, had her computer confiscated. She’s been released, but the justification the police gave for the raid is that they found bulletproof vests in her home and thought she was a terrorist even though it’s normal for journalists to protect themselves while covering dangerous situations.
Have you experienced issues regarding government transparency?
In 2008 I was investigating a plane disappearance and sent a letter requesting information from the government. I didn’t think it would be a problem because it had nothing to with politics or Chávez; it was a civil case. After three letters, I was told that it was no longer public information because they found the corpse of the copilot, making it a criminal case, even though I had previously asked if they found the body. It proved to me that the government doesn’t want to be transparent, even when it has nothing to do with politics.
How did this contentious relationship between the government and media develop?
This situation started in 1998, when Venezuela’s political parties were really low on credibility. Media began acting as a political agent. It was because of this crisis that Hugo Chávez was victorious in that election, and the media played a big role in that. After Chávez was elected the media stopped working as a platform and started to demand results. Now the roles are mixed up: It’s not clear what media should do, what political leaders should do, what the president of the state should do. Citizens are caught in the middle.
After the coup attempt in 2002, Hugo Chávez spent millions on creating a platform for public media. Following that he closed dozens of private radio stations, passed restrictive laws, and harassed journalists. Now “community media” and public media are larger than private media. That in itself isn’t a problem, but its goal is to promote the interests of the government and work as a watchdog, and the government’s influence over the private media has increased as well.
From Chávez to Maduro, how has the state of the media changed?
I think Hugo Chávez was really clever in many ways because he knew how to push hard enough to take you to your limits and then loosen. Maduro doesn’t have the ability to work with force. Chávez had his ideas, regardless of whether you liked them or not, while Maduro’s following an unfinished script and taking an even harder line than we ever expected from Chávez.
Have journalists been affected by the ongoing protests in Venezuela?
It’s been more than three months since the beginning of the protests, and the government doesn’t want them covered by the media. That’s one way to deactivate the protests. Another way is by silencing journalists. There have also been cases of aggression against journalists by the student protestors. Journalists are caught between the aggression of the state and the aggression of violent factions in the protests.
Do you think that journalists in Venezuela are censoring themselves?
I think so, but how do you measure self-censorship? It’s not something that journalists would admit to. We are starting to witness the resignations of journalists after having problems confronting their editorial boards. That’s basically happening in Últimas Noticias and the tv channel, Globovisión. Both, private media groups, are now in the hands of new owners with new interests.
Has the media blackout in Venezuela affected your ability to stay informed in Barcelona?
My mother in Caracas asks me for information about Venezuela because there is no information about the protests on national television, public or private. Information is finding its way through social media, but that’s a big risk because social media is not only made up of journalists, but also citizen journalists who could have an interest in creating confusion. No matter where you are it’s hard to get straight information about what’s going on in the streets of Caracas and other cities in the country.
Could you tell me about some of the differences that you’ve perceived in how journalism is taught and practiced in Spain as compared to Venezuela?
In Venezuela, it’s really common to see a journalist from a public media station wearing a t-shirt with Chávez or Maduro now, but in Spain you won’t see a journalist working for Televisión Española or Televisió de Catalunya wearing a t-shirt with a picture of Artur Mas, the President of the Generalitat of Catalonia, or with Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy. That’s quite a unique thing in Venezuela, and that’s misuse of media.
In some ways, Spain is not better than Venezuela. Even though the political situation is different, there’s also a lot of pressure on Spanish media here because of economic struggles. Decisions are based more on business rather than on journalism. El País was a great newspaper but it’s facing a lot of cuts, and some of its best journalists are now unemployed, and this is just one of many examples that can be pointed out. Previously, Europe was a guide for Latin American journalists, but now I see more vibrant journalism in Latin America than in Spain.
What gains do you think Venezuelan journalists and media outlets could have from the protests?
We need to make the distinction between media owners and independent journalists. In the political fight, we’re packed in the same bucket. But if media organizations are losing credibility, it’s a chance for journalists to gain credibility, and that’s one good thing that can come out of crises, not only in Venezuela but everywhere.
George Simeon said “Writing is not a profession, but a vocation of unhappiness.” What do you think of that quote?
I agree and disagree. Investigative journalism is an unhappy road. Our job, as journalists, is to point out the wrongs in the world, but on the other hand, journalism is the only profession that gives you the opportunity to talk to a crook, to an artist, to whomever is willing, and that’s really beautiful. Every time I interview someone, I’m amazed when people open up and talk to me. That’s the happy side of the unhappy life of a journalist.