BUENOS AIRES, Argentina – Hugo Chavez, winner of a journalism award?
The Venezuelan leader regularly clashes with critical media, but Argentina’s University of La Plata was giving him its Rodolfo Walsh Prize on Tuesday “for his unquestionable and authentic commitment” to giving people without a voice access to the airwaves and newspapers.
Chavez has bankrolled the growth of the Telesur network, providing a state-funded alternative to privately financed broadcast stations across Latin America.
He has a sure ally in Argentine President Cristina Fernandez, who sees privately owned media groups as a bigger threat to freedom of expression than state control of airwaves or newsprint. Fernandez is trying to transform Argentina’s communications industry through a law that would break up media monopolies and force cable TV providers to include channels run by unions, Indians and other activists.
“Here there is democracy,” Chavez said after arriving in Argentina. He praised the country for having an “open debate just like in Venezuela, and a president who is an absolute defender of human rights and freedom of expression, freedom of the press and freedom of thought.”
The two presidents also signed commercial accords dealing with food, transport and energy, and they visited a state-run factory where Argentina will build ships for Venezuela’s oil industry.
The choice of Chavez – who is accused of silencing opposition-aligned media in Venezuela – for the award is controversial.
Inter American Press Association president Gonzalo Marroquin said in an interview that the Venezuelan leader is a “clear enemy of freedom of the press.”