Citizen Action Monitor

Letter of complaint to CBC Ombudsperson re CBC News – The National’s coverage of Venezuelan crisis

Reporting since early February has not presented an accurate, fair, balanced and impartial analysis of events.

No 2437 Posted by fw, February 19, 2019

“I am writing to complain about the coverage of the situation in Venezuela on The National since early February 2019 by anchor Adrienne Arsenault. It fails to meet the CBC’s journalistic standards and practices, as it has not presented an accurate, fair, balanced and impartial picture of the situation on the ground. Why should we care?  Think no further than the non-existent weapons of mass destruction that served to justify the US invasion of Iraq. At a time when the US is actively promoting regime change in Venezuela by any means necessary, including invasion and assassination, ably abetted by the Canadian government, it becomes especially critical to provide informed, accurate coverage for Canadian viewers.”Helga Wintal

Helga Wintal, B.A. (Hon.), LL.B., a retired public servant with extensive experience in federal, provincial and county governments, was sufficiently incensed to complain to the CBC Ombudsperson about the biased National news coverage, overtly promoting regime change in Venezuela.

Helga makes 6 complaints in her letter:

1/ Mischaracterizing the persona and the legitimacy of Juan Guaidó

2/ Ignoring independent observers’ assessment of 2018 election as free, fair and transparent

3/ One-sided coverage of demonstrations

4/ Appeal to emotions without explaining the reasons for the economic collapse

5/ Total misunderstanding of the use of food as a political weapon

6/ Why the US support for regime change under Guaidó?

The full text of Helga’s letter of complaint follows.

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Letter of complaint to CBC Ombudsperson by Helga Wintal, Citizen Action Monitor, February 19, 2019

February 18, 2019

Dear CBC Ombudsperson, Jack Nagler,

I am writing to complain about the coverage of the situation in Venezuela on The National since early February 2019 by anchor Adrienne Arsenault. It fails to meet the CBC’s journalistic standards and practices, as it has not presented an accurate, fair, balanced and impartial picture of the situation on the ground.

Why should we care?  Think no further than the non-existent weapons of mass destruction that served to justify the US invasion of Iraq. At a time when the US is actively promoting regime change in Venezuela by any means necessary, including invasion and assassination, ably abetted by the Canadian government, it becomes especially critical to provide informed, accurate coverage for Canadian viewers.

Here are my 6 main complaints

1/ Mischaracterizing the persona and the legitimacy of Juan Guaidó:

Complaint: Ms. Arsenault has painted a flattering picture of Juan Guaidó – for example, showing him with aid packages, or with his hands clasped in prayer – and has accepted without question his self-proclamation as Venezuela’s interim President.

Omitted facts: In any other country with a sitting President, Guaidó’s actions would be labelled an attempted coup and treasonous.

Guaidó’s reliance on Article 233 of the Venezuela Constitution for his self-proclamation requires that the Presidency be vacant. Guaidó argues that the election of Maduro was not legitimate, so he considers the Presidency vacant. However, if the Presidency is vacated within the first four years of a six-year mandate, Article 233 specifies that the President shall be succeeded by the Vice President – in this case, by Vice President Delcy Rodriguez.

Article 233 also provides for new elections to be called within 30 days. Guaidó has neatly side-stepped this requirement by having the National Assembly pass a law on February 5, titled Democratic Transition Statute, which allows an interim president to remain in power for a “maximum period of twelve (12) months” if technically impossible to hold them sooner. Would the National Assembly pass such a provision if Delcy Rodriguez were interim president? (See Venezuela: Coup d’etat or Constitutional Transition? By Lucas Koerner, Feb. 6, 2019, Venezuelanalysis.com. See also The Making of Juan Guaidó: How the US Regime Change Laboratory Created Venezuela’s Coup Leader

None of this was mentioned by the CBC. Other glaring omissions were:

Guaidó has been described as “the product of more than a decade of assiduous grooming by the US government’s elite regime change factories.”  Popular Will, a far-right extremist party that he helped found in 2007, was actively involved in the 2014 and 2017 sometimes violent street demonstrations to destabilize the Maduro regime. The party has consistently refused to participate in mediation talks because they will only accept regime change.

Guaidó was proud of his participation in the 2014 street violence, tweeting a video of himself clad in a helmet and gas mask, while others engaged in a violent clash with the police.

Guaidó did not run for President of Venezuela. He was elected to the National Assembly on Dec. 6, 2015 as a member of Popular Will. His party holds 14 out of 167 seats in the National Assembly.  According to an informal power-sharing agreement among the ruling coalition of parties, the presidency of the National Assembly rotates annually.  Guaidó became president under this arrangement on Jan. 5, 2019.  Given this background, he can hardly be considered to speak for the Venezuelan people! (Information based on Wikipedia and other confirming resources in Venezuelanalysis.com)

 

2/ Ignoring independent observers’ assessment of 2018 election as free, fair and transparent

Complaint: The CBC continues to characterize the election of Maduro in May 2018 as undemocratic and illegitimate.

Omitted facts:  Since 2006, Venezuela’s elections have been overseen by independent international observers. Former President Jimmy Carter has described its elections as some of the best and most transparent in the world. The elections of 2018 were declared to be free, fair and transparent by those on the ground. Maduro was re-elected cleanly, as verified by reports from four different independent international monitoring missions (See Venezuela: Coup d’etat or Constitutional Transition? by Lucas Koerner, Feb. 6, 2019, Venezuelanalysis.com).

 

3/ One-sided coverage of demonstrations

Complaint: The initial demonstrations in favour of Guaidó were covered, and demonstrators were given the opportunity to air their concerns.  The demonstrations in favour of Maduro, that were just as numerous, were given little or no coverage, and no pro-Maduro demonstrators were interviewed before Feb. 12th – and that was a cursory interview.

Omitted facts: The social investments in health, education and nutrition for the poor majority during the period of high oil prices and exports continue to draw support for Maduro, and the successive waves of US sanctions have engendered distrust of the US and, by extension, the US-supported Guaidó.  When, at last, on the Feb. 12th coverage, Ms. Arsenault allowed a pro-Maduro supporter to say that they did not want foreign intervention, and another to say that foreign aid is tainted, she ended the segment with a Guaidó supporter begging for foreign intervention, including military intervention.

 

4/ Appeal to emotions without explaining the reasons for the economic collapse

Complaint: As for the frequent references to food and medicine shortages, and the heart-wrenching shots of poorly equipped hospitals, at no time did the CBC cover the full range of factors contributing to Venezuela’s economic collapse.

Omitted facts: With an economy dependent on oil exports to finance its social programs and import needed foods and medicines, the collapse in oil prices and the crippling US sanctions, contrary to UN principles, had a devastating effect. A partial list of sanctions follows:

Jan. 26, 2019:  Sanctions prohibit US individuals and companies from transacting with Venezuela’s state-owned oil company PDVSA, or if they do, payments will go to an escrow account. The loss, for Venezuela, is about US$11bn for the rest of the year, plus the loss of US$7 billion in seized PDVSA assets in the US. Between 80 and 90 percent of PDVSA’s cash income comes from sales to the US. As Venezuela’s oil exports represent the main source of hard currency to pay for imports of basic goods and essential medicines, the sanctions are estimated to result in a 40.3% decline in imports. The sanctions will intensify the severe hardships and suffering of millions of Venezuelans.

In addition, under US pressure, the Bank of England is withholding Maduro’s access to $1.2 billion of Venezuela’s gold.

August 25, 2017:  President Trump’s Executive Order 13.808 barred U.S. persons from providing new financing to the Venezuelan government or PDVSA. The sanctions made it virtually impossible to fight hyperinflation or recover from a deep depression. Venezuelan economist Francisco Rodríguez links the restricted access to financing with a collapse in Venezuela’s oil production.

May, 2011: Sanctions – to last two years – prevented the PDVSA oil company from entering into contracts with the U.S. government, as well as barring it from import-export finance programs and obtaining licenses for U.S. oil processing technology.

Sept. 10, 2004: Sanctions by Bush – committing U.S. officials to using the influence of the government in international financial institutions to forbid the authorization of funding to Venezuela.

In addition to punishing sanctions, the US government has been supporting opposition parties for years. Venezuelan journalist Eva Golinger writes: “According to public documents, just between the years 2008 to 2011, the U.S. State Department channeled more than $40 million to the Venezuelan opposition”, an amount that was increased by $5M in Obama’s 2012 budget. As part of its current sanctions, the US has indicated that the $7 billion in seized PDVSA assets would be put at the disposal of Guaidó.

(See also: Venezuelans Mobilize Against Obama’s Sanctions by Shamus Cooke, May 31st 2011,  Venezuelanalysis.com;  What’s the Deal with Sanctions in Venezuela, and Why’s It So Hard for Media to Understand? By Alexander Campbell – CEPR, Feb 5th 2019, Venezuelanalysis.com;  US tightens the noose on Venezuela – Will the Coup Succeed? by Jorge Martin, Marxist.com, Feb 4th 2019; and U.S. Sanctions against Venezuela by Anna Mahjar-Barducci, June 3, 2011, Gatestone Institute.

 

5/ Total misunderstanding of the use of food as a political weapon

Complaint: CBC coverage of the first US aid requested by Guaidó focused on the blockade  by Maduro, with the message, conveyed by an interviewee, that food from any source should not be turned back.

Omitted facts: No mention that in November 2018, following a public appeal by Maduro, the UN authorized emergency aid for Venezuela. No mention that both the International Red Cross and United Nations warned the US to explicitly not engage in these types of PR stunts. Consider the following:

As Washington Post contributor Vincent Bevins pointed out, the Red Cross has long been working with local authorities inside Venezuela to deliver relief, and just last week doubled its budget to do so. There is ample evidence the Maduro government is more than willing to work with international aid when it’s offered in good faith, not when it’s a thinly veiled mechanism to spur civil war and contrive PR victories for those seeking to overthrow the government. (In fact, during Ms. Arsenault’s interview, one of the monthly food packages distributed by the government arrived.)  (See Western Media Fall in Lockstep for Cheap Trump/Rubio Venezuela Aid PR Stunt, by Adam Johnson – FAIR, Feb. 11, 2019).

The CBC coverage actually erred in showing the bridge allegedly blocked to prevent aid delivery. It was, in fact, never opened to traffic, with barriers that had been in place since at least 2016!  (See Western Media Fall in Lockstep for Cheap Trump/Rubio Venezuela Aid PR Stunt, by Adam Johnson, FAIR, Feb. 11, 2019).

In a follow-up report entitled “Food as a political weapon”, Ms. Arsenault failed to consider how Guaidó’s actions, in promising more USAID supplies on Feb. 23rd could be viewed as provocative. (Here’s why: the opposition has reportedly signed up 250,000 volunteers and will be holding “processions” of their supporters in border regions; in response, the United Socialist Party (PSUV) and other pro-government organizations are planning to set up an anti-imperialist youth camp close to the Tienditas Bridge, which connects Venezuela to Colombia. These actions – all precipitated by Guaidó’s aid request – raise the prospect of possible confrontations which could be used by Guaidó to request foreign intervention. (See Imperialist intervention in Venezuela,: Update 9 by Countercurrents.org, Feb. 14, 2019.)

Venezuela authorities have pointed out that the amount of US aid being sent to Guaidó pales in comparison to the Venezuelan assets and accounts frozen outside the country, which could finance needed imports. (See Imperialist intervention in Venezuela; Update 5; Countercurrents.org; Feb. 8, 2019)

 

6/ Why the US support for regime change under Guaidó?

Complaint: Of course, this was never addressed.

Omitted facts: Without belabouring the long history of US intervention in Venezuela – a country that holds the world’s largest proven oil reserves – consider the following recent developments:

The Wall Street Journal, in a January 31st article, stated that “Juan Guaidó, recognized by Washington as the rightful leader, said he would sell state assets and invite private investment in the energy industry.” (See Venezuela Opposition Leader Outlines Plan to Revive Nation, by Ryan Dube and Kejal Vyas. The Wall Street Journal, January 31, 2019)  

U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton told Fox News, “we’re in conversation with major American companies now… It will make a big difference to the United States economically if we could have American oil companies really invest in and produce the oil capabilities in Venezuela.” (See Regime Change – Made in the USA, by Steve Ellner, Consortium News, Feb. 11, 2019)

Did CBC news coverage refer to either of these?

In conclusion, as rectification of my complaint, I expect the CBC to apply its journalistic standards of accuracy, fairness and impartiality in subsequent coverage of the situation in Venezuela. In particular, if the next US aid shipment results in confrontations and possible violence, it would be an excellent opportunity to provide background and explain how and why the request from Guaidó, a person without standing as Venezuela’s President, precipitated the crisis and hopes to benefit from it.

Thank you for looking into this complaint, with my apologies for its length.

Please note that this email, and any subsequent response, will be posted on the website Citizen Action Monitor.

Helga Wintal, etc.

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