Quiet Media Angers Venezuelan Leader
CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) _ Journalists protesting what they said were Hugo Chavez’s attacks on the media refused to ask the Venezuelan leader any questions during a presidential news conference.
A visibly angered Chavez stormed out of the room in silence.
The incident Friday in north central Venezuela underscored concerns about freedom of the press in the South American nation, as well as growing opposition to Chavez as May’s presidential balloting approaches.
Instead of asking questions, one reporter stood up, looked directly at Chavez, and told him why they were protesting.
``In view of your repeatedly disrespectful attitude, and your assessment of our questions as irrelevant, we, as serious professionals of the media ... have decided not to pose any questions this afternoon,″ local radio journalist Amira Muci told Chavez.
Her words left the usually longwinded Chavez speechless.
``He was visibly annoyed. He said nothing and, in silence, quickly went across the street where leaders of his party were waiting for him,″ Muci said later.
The group of about 20 journalists agreed to stage the protest moments before Chavez’s plane landed in the central Venezuelan city of Maracay, said Jairo Marquez, a reporter for Maracay’s El Siglo newspaper.
Chavez has not attempted to shut down any media outlets. But his frequent verbal assaults on the media have alienated prominent journalists who say he’s trying to intimidate them.
A new constitution that Chavez pushed through last year contains a controversial clause requiring the media to publish ``truthful information,″ which the Inter-American Press Association has said could lead to censorship.
A leftist former army paratrooper who staged a failed 1992 coup attempt, Chavez has enjoyed almost fanatical support from Venezuela’s poor majority.
But he faces serious opposition for the first time from a popular ex-governor and fellow former coup leader, Francisco Arias, who recently broke with Chavez. Arias is challenging Chavez in the May 28 election and is thought to have a chance at victory.
Chavez has accused journalists of ``manipulating″ his words and complained that the media refuses to publish his frequent announcements of new social and economic programs.
In a televised address to announce housing and construction plans shortly before the incident in Maracay, he called reporters ``professional deceivers″ and warned Venezuelans to ``unchain themselves from the dictatorship they represent.″
Arias applauded the journalists for conducting the protest.
``I think it is positive that the president feels that not everyone is willing to tolerate his insults and abuses,″ he said.
Foreign Minister Jose Vicente Rangel, a former journalist himself, has dismissed accusations that Chavez is trying to bully the media.
``All the media are against Chavez. And not one reporter has been arrested, harassed or silenced,″ Rangel said in a recent television interview.
Unhappy over negative press coverage, Chavez created his own daily newspaper last July called The President’s Post, which lists him as editor in chief.