Globovisión is Balanced, But on What Scale?

[This post has been modified from its original version. The authors requested it be changed to reflect that the study was originally commissioned by Globovisión itself.]

Mike Danielson, Michael McCarthy, and Paula Orlando

Since the purchase of Venezuela’s news channel Globovisión by an investor group in May 2013 and the subsequent departure of many of its leading journalists, analysts and sectors of the general public have assumed the channel is now heavily slanted in favor of the government. According to our study of Globovisión’s coverage, this perception needs to be rethought.

Globovisión commissioned this independent study by American University to examine the network’s content. We found that during four critical periods—the 2013 municipal elections (Nov. 9-December 15, 2013), street demonstrations in 2014 (Feb. 12-Mar 21, 2014), the international attempts to mediate Venezuela’s internal political crisis (March 25-May 14, 2014), and shortages of basic goods (August 7-29, 2014)—Globovisión’s coverage tended to be neutral, with no significant bias in favor of the government or the opposition.

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-oppositionvoices 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.

We also detected a trend of the channel implicitly assigning greater weight to pro-government voices by placing stories favorable to the government at the top of the agenda.

A number of factors may help account for the pattern of Globovisión offering, on balance, neutral news coverage during these four time periods. The channel’s new owners announced on May 23, 2013—after a meeting with President Maduro—they would simply “transmit the news,” make an effort to “lower the levels of conflict,” and work toward “peace in Venezuela.” These themes reflect a change in editorial line from before the May 2013 sale, when Globovisón served as the media standard-bearer for the opposition’s political agenda. Significantly, the tone of channel journalists tended to be non-confrontational. Hosts provided space and time for guests to make their points without obstacle.

In addition, the Maduro government faced different dimensions of a deep crisis during these four periods, and the problems that defined these periods certainly created unpleasant subject matters for the government. On channels such as Venezolano de Televisión, a government run, state-owned media outlet, pro-government guests are extremely unlikely to face tough questioning about these problems. On VTV there is no need to spin the story, because there are rarely if any tough questions. Though Globovisión journalists tended to be non-confrontational, the presentation or framing of stories often cast light on the gravity of the situation, which may have created a situation where it was easier to recruit opposition than government representatives for interviews.

Balance must also be distinguished from breadth and depth. While Globovisión offered coverage of major news stories during these four periods, two important holes in the news coverage need underscoring. The case of Leopoldo López, arguably the most critical individual example for human rights, received comparatively less visibility than it did on two international outlets Globovisión competes with—CNN in Spanish and NTN24. Likewise, Governor Henrique Capriles, the opposition’s 2012 and 2013 Presidential candidate, was not interviewed in-studio during the periods we studied–a notable absence given his still significant political profile.

The balanced coverage provided by Globovisión therefore must be cast in the broader context of what appeared to be a narrow range for the scope of news.  

*Mike Danielson (Visiting Assistant Professor of International Affairs at George Washington University), Michael McCarthy, and Paula Orlando are Research Fellows at American University’s Center for Latin American and Latino Studies.