Why we are taking heat in Venezuela

Por Venezuela Real - 5 de Diciembre, 2007, 17:41, Categoría: Prensa Internacional

Sean Maguire
December 5, 2007

Venezuela is a passionate place and its politics are particularly feisty.

The fervent supporters of President Hugo Chavez's socialist revolution pit themselves against equally fervent opponents who believe he is driving the country to dictatorship and ruin. In such an atmosphere the local press becomes deeply politicised and many readers look outside to international news organisations to give them a balanced view in tumultuous times. That's a role that Reuters takes very seriously.

For several hours before official results of Sunday's referendum were released, Reuters reported senior government sources saying that Chavez was winning a vote that would allow him to contest elections for life and enshrine socialism as a state priority in the constitution. The sources were impeccable, including three cabinet ministers who had been correct in the past and who cited exit polls and early returns. The ministers told us Chavez was ahead by a hefty 6-8 points. An independent source also told us we were on the right track. But they were proved wrong. Chavez was defeated.

We've received many emails accusing us of a breach of trust, of favouritism and of incompetence. You'll find a selection on the blog where we post reader comment.

Our mistake was not in using sources to get a beat on the story. We followed our own sourcing rules properly. We made clear that our sources were linked to the government and that we had talked to several senior figures. We specified where they said they had their information from.

We also made strenuous efforts to get the opposition's point of view. But for a couple of hours we were unable to get them to comment. For some readers that left the impression that Reuters backed the government's interpretation of events.

As the story developed and opposition conviction grew that the government's numbers were wrong, we were slow to give the change the attention it merited. Some other news organizations emphasised that the vote was too close to call. In retrospect, it was an approach we should have taken.

We have provided comprehensive and distinguished coverage of the referendum, one of the most important stories in recent months in Latin America. We believe our reporting has been balanced and fair. Our stories strive to explain clearly why Chavez is loved and loathed in equal measure. We erred in this one instance, not from favouritism towards the Chavez government, but because we fell away from the high standards we set ourselves.

Thank you to all the readers who questioned our coverage

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