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Paolo Moiola
Interviste (mb-tt-10 s)

VENEZUELA - Interview with Ernesto Villegas Poljak

“I’m a journalist, not a propagandist”

Ernesto Villegas Poljak is a well-known journalist on Venezolana de Televisión, a government television channel. He has been criticized by both pro- and anti-government forces, and even he admits he has not been able to escape the polarization his country is living through, though in his work he tries to maintain a balanced and considered position.

Latinamerica Press correspondent Paolo Moiola interviewed Villegas Poljak about Venezuela’s political situation and his journalist experiences.

To be a journalist in Venezuela today has serious implications. What has your experience been?

Being a journalist today is very difficult. Even though the media maintain an appearance of independence, balance and objectivity, it’s only lip service. With some exceptions, newspapers, radio and television seems as if they are working for the political parties. The reporting of news has been pushed into second place, behind political concerns.

This has undermined the role of journalism both within the media and in society. I compare our situation — that of Venezuelan journalists — to that of fire fighters who are suddenly told by their chief to no longer put out every fire. What’s more, in some cases they should throw gasoline on the flames. Or that they shouldn’t take care of all the injured, but rather let some of them die. These are glaring contradictions for a journalist or a fire fighter, except for those who are fanatically identified with the political positions of their bosses.

In my own case, I’ve stopped writing for Venezuelan newspapers, because I can see that their idea of news, their criteria for selecting stories, writing headlines and where they place stories is no longer governed by accepted norms but is overly influenced by the current political polarization (LP, July 1, 2002). Under these circumstances I’ve lost my enthusiasm for writing and even for the profession of journalism. On the show I host on Venezolana de Televisión, the government channel, I try to maintain a balanced and thoughtful position, inviting the widest range of guests, but still I can’t completely escape the polarization.

Does this mean you’ve lost your objectivity?

I can see that I have been losing some of my traditional balance, and this worries me from a professional point of view. As a citizen, however, I feel better. The opposition leadership, which is dominated by international forces, economic groups and media moguls, has adopted practices that are arbitrary, totalitarian and violent. They are so openly against not only Chávez but also the people and even Venezuelan sovereignty, that it is hard to remain neutral. Anyway, I reflect every day about my role as a journalist and try, regardless of the differences, to maintain respect among Venezuelans. This is something I don’t see among colleagues, whose responsibilities are similar to mine. With notable exceptions, the hosts of radio and TV programs have turned into political agitators, and some of them are out-and-out buffoons.

How’s your relationship with the government?

It hasn’t been easy dealing with the more radical Chávez supporters who don’t understand why I ask questions or make comments that are different or even contrary to the official government line. I know that I have many detractors in some government circles and within pro-government parties who would like to see me replaced with a propagandist instead of a journalist, and they are just waiting for the day I leave the show.

I’ve thought many times that if the polarization gets any worse and the possibility of journalism is completely closed off, no one would give me a job, neither government media nor private media. I’d be considered a “traitor” by all sides. In fact, I’ve taken steps to get into another profession, to become a lawyer, since I can foresee my eventual divorce from the profession I’ve practiced for 12 years.

Are you optimistic or pessimistic about Venezuela’s political situation?

I’m both at the same time. Pessimistic because I know how deeply wounded the country is, both economically and emotionally, and how difficult it will be to get human beings who inhabit the same territory to live according to basic rules of coexistence. A kind of low- or medium-intensity conflict could drag on at a huge economic, social and emotional price.

I’m also optimistic because, in spite of everything, there is and will continue to be a high level of political consciousness among the people. This is the result of something previously unheard of: grassroots awareness about the roots of social inequality and other structural problems in Venezuelan society. Venezuela will have much to offer in the struggles of people that will take place throughout the region, to win back their rights and to build a more just world.










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