Searching for truth in Venezuela

The images of the Venezuela protests spreading online have been a mix of truths and half-truths, with some actually showing other world events. In this verified image, a student in Maracaibo <a href='http://ireport.cnn.com/docs/DOC-1086131'>lights a tire on fire</a> on February 15. Note: The images in this gallery may be disturbing to some. The images of the Venezuela protests spreading online have been a mix of truths and half-truths, with some actually showing other world events. In this verified image, a student in Maracaibo lights a tire on fire on February 15. Note: The images in this gallery may be disturbing to some.

Sorting fact from fiction in Venezuela

(CNN) — The images coming from Venezuela over the past few weeks have been arresting: Troops shooting, protesters hurling rocks, people bleeding.

Just like the tear gas that clouds the scenes in photos, a complete picture of the truth in the confrontations is also hazy.

Allegations of censorship, self-censorship and photo manipulation have made it difficult for news consumers — especially Venezuelans — to form a complete picture of what is going on.

A media blackout has stymied the flow of information during some of the most intense days of clashes between anti-government protesters and authorities. In addition, strict regulations have pressured media outlets to tread softly when it comes to covering the violence.

There is more freedom on social media, but there are accusations that these channels of communication have been polluted by fake photos and misinformation. And the government allegedly blocked access to Twitter during protests last week.

 

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“People don’t know what is happening and they depend on the dangerous or beneficial social networks because on social media, you can get truthful information. But also you can find people who misinform for their own ends,” said Carlos Acosta, a journalist for a Florida-based news startup that was created specifically to fill the gaps in coverage in Venezuela.

CNN iReport, the network’s user-generated platform, has received more than 2,700 submissions from Venezuela in the past week. Of those, more than 120 have been verified by producers and cleared for CNN.

These are developments that mostly have not been making it on to Venezuelan newscasts.

One vetted iReport video begins by showing a contrast: President Nicolas Maduro speaking on television about how things are under control, while outside a window, national guard troops are firing tear gas.

As he filmed, Giorgio Russo said the troops “aimed at me but since I live on the 14th floor I didn’t think they could reach, but I was wrong.”

A tear gas canister broke through a window and landed under a sofa, Russo said. His brother managed to throw the canister back out the window, but not before their 85-year-old father suffered from the gas.

In the western state of Tachira, in the city of San Cristobal, Alejandro Camacho captured video of student protesters “trying to be heard” by blocking streets and burning debris that cast an orange glow on them.

These reports provide under-reported vantage points, but what is the whole story? It is a challenge when unverified content is going viral and a government is blocking media.

Media blackouts

The ongoing protests grabbed the world’s attention on February 12, when two anti-government protesters and one government supporter were killed.

The day before, according to Human Rights Watch, the state broadcasting authority warned that coverage of the violence could violate a controversial law that prohibits the broadcasting of material that “foments anxiety” or “incites or promotes hatred and intolerance for … political reasons.”

As bullets flew and people died on the 12th, most outlets heeded the warning.

The Press and Society Institute monitored 38 radio stations the day of the killings and found that only five reported on developments in the day’s deadly violence and 30 transmitted “light programming. The other three echoed the government’s position.

The media silence “denied the citizenry the right to information of public interest and of relevancy for the safety of residents in the cities where the demonstrations unfolded,” the institute said in a report.

Comedian Luis Chataing, who also hosts a radio and television program, was among the majority who were silent on the airwaves on the violent day.

The next day, he apologized to his listeners and said he was ashamed of Venezuelan media.

Chataing told CNN en Español that he understands the restrictions the media is working under, but “this doesn’t help at all for the panorama to become clearer and for peace to be achieved as quickly as possible.”

How could it be, he asked, that while clashes were taking a turn toward violence, all one could find on television was a cooking show about how to fry eggs?

“I wanted to express myself as one more Venezuelan in my pain that the (national) media was not providing the coverage that I wanted about what is happening in Venezuela,” Chataing said. “Having to inform ourselves through foreign press is shameful.”

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