By Mike Danielson, Michael McCarthy, and Paula Orlando*
A study conducted by CLALS has revealed that, contrary to popular perception in Venezuela, Globovisión – standard bearer in news television for the opposition’s political agenda until a May 2013 ownership change – does not exhibit a strong pro-government bias. Our report, Bias or Neutrality? An Assessment of Television News Coverage in Venezuela by Globovisión, concludes that Globovisión’s framing of the issues has tended to be neutral, and that there was no significant bias in favor of the government or the opposition. To examine the station’s performance during the first 15 months of new ownership (May 2013-August 2014) – the previous owners felt compelled to sell after mounting fines caused them to operate at a loss – the study examined content during four critical junctures: the 2013 municipal elections, street demonstrations in 2014, the international attempts to mediate Venezuela’s internal political crisis, and shortages of basic goods. Using content analysis to examine coverage of government and opposition representatives, the favorability of the presentation and portrayal of prominent individuals and organizations, and the choice of issues and perspectives receiving coverage, the review concluded:
- Non-partisan actors received most coverage (45.3 percent), and pro-government and pro-opposition partisans were equally likely to receive attention (28.4 and 26.3 percent, respectively). Even in the instances that a small pro-opposition bias was found, pro-opposition voices received only slightly more visibility in terms of total on-air minutes – receiving 37.5 percent, while 33.6 percent went to pro-government partisans, and 28.9 percent went to nonpartisan actors.
- Pro-opposition perspectives were favored in the periods focused on the municipal elections and street demonstrations, and coverage was more neutral when focused on the international dimensions of the crisis and the shortages of basic goods.
- There was, however, a pro-government slant regarding story placement, as stories that were more favorable to the Administration of President Nicolás Maduro tended to “lead” as the first stories in a news broadcast.
Privately owned news media in Venezuela face numerous challenges to providing visibility and fair depiction to sharply different perspectives on enormously controversial events. Although this report calls attention to the need to reassess the perception that Globovisión is strongly biased in favor of the government, notable holes in the channel’s news coverage suggest international concerns about press freedom issues in Venezuela remain justified. For example, the case of jailed opposition leader Leopoldo López received less attention from Globovisión than from international outlets such as CNN en español or NTN24. Additionally, footage of former presidential candidate and Governor of Miranda state Henrique Capriles was shown 11 times in the study’s sample, but Capriles was not an interview guest on any of the Globovisión programs. President Maduro, on the other hand, appeared 42 times (beyond government-controlled network broadcasts called cadenas). In spite of Venezuela’s chronic political crisis and extremely difficult political circumstances and the related pressures on news media, Globovision coverage, on balance, was not significantly biased either in favor or against the government.
May 19, 2015
*Mike Danielson (Visiting Assistant Professor of International Affairs at George Washington University), Michael McCarthy, and Paula Orlando are CLALS fellows. Click here to see their full report and here to see their interview with Voice of America.