A new study by Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) titled “Human Rights Coverage Serving Washington’s Needs” reviewing ten years of editorial coverage in the country’s four largest newspapers finds that the corporate media has largely saw to amplify the positions of the US government.
“Rather than independently and critically assessing the Colombian and Venezuelan records, major corporate newspaper editors, to one degree or another, have subordinated crucial human rights questions to what they see as the U.S.’s interests in the region.”
The newspapers have done this by focusing on Venezuela’s human rights record–a so-called enemy of the United States–and minimizing or ignoring human rights abuses by Colombia, an ally of the United States:
“What leads editors to discuss Colombia’s nightmarish human rights record with less alarm than Venezuela’s flawed but clearly superior record? The answer seems to lie in the relationship between the editors’ views and U.S. strategic thinking. Over the time frame of this study, U.S. officials have highlighted human rights concerns in Venezuela out of opposition to the populist policies of its President Hugo Chavez, which they see as threatening to U.S. interests. At the same time, officials have tried to diminish the gravity of Colombia’s human rights problems in order to sustain political support for a number of military, anti-drug and trade projects the U.S. shares with Colombia.”
Findings Similar to Study of Grand Rapids Press Coverage
In a 2007 study, the Grand Rapids Institute for Information Democracy (GRIID) found similar bias in the Grand Rapids Press’ coverage of Latin America. In an overview of its findings, GRIID wrote:
“The way that Cuba and Venezuela were reported on in this 6-month period is in line with the current US State Department’s position towards Cuba and Venezuela. Does this mean that the Associated Press does not act independently of US policy or did the Grand Rapids Press decide to run stories that were reflective of the government position?”
Coverage Reflects Chomsky’s Propaganda Model
The coverage also reflects the functioning of the propaganda model that Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman outlined in their influential book, Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media. In a study by the North American Congress on Latin America, Kevin Young found that coverage of Venezuela and Colombia follows this model in reporting on the abuses of the Venezuelan government while ignoring those of Colombia. Young’s study looked at two issues–free speech and presidential term limits–and found that in both cases The New York Times and The Washington Post contained harsh criticisms of Venezuela but were either silent or supportive of Colombia, thereby reflecting US policy.