MCP 7 (3) pp. 253–273 Intellect Limited 2011
International Journal of Media and Cultural Politics
Volume 7 Number 3
© 2011 Intellect Ltd Article. English language. doi: 10.1386/macp.7.3.253_1
LEE SALTER AND DAVE WELTMAN
University of the West of England
Class, nationalism and news:
The BBC’s reporting of Hugo
Chavez and the Bolivarian
This article analyses BBC News Online’s reporting of the Bolivarian revolution in
Venezuela, using a sample from a broader selection of 304 articles published on
BBC News Online between 1998 and 2008. Against the BBC’s stated commitment
to professional values, we find that the BBC’s organizational culture is under-
pinned by a liberal nationalist worldview, which limits its interpretive capacities.
The analysis notes that the liberal nationalism underpinning BBC News Online’s
reporting limits the interpretive capacities of journalists. The ideologically domi-
nant national history of Venezuela (the exceptionalism thesis) forms an interpretive
framework, which synchs with the BBC’s general conceptualization of the forms and
function of a nation state and thus prevents adequate understanding of the present.
Consequently, the coverage of contemporary Venezuelan politics masks the under-
lying class conflict, instead identifying Chavez, who has emerged seemingly from
nowhere, as the key agent of political crisis. The BBC’s reliance on a narrative of the
disruption of national unity allows it to take sides in the conflict whilst apparently
MCP_7.3_Salter_253-273.indd 253MCP_7.3_Salter_253-273.indd 253 12/20/11 11:29:13 AM12/20/11 11:29:13 AM
Lee Salter | Dave Weltman
A number of scholars have pointed to the role of media in establishing and
maintaining national identity (Morley 2000; Scannell and Cardiff 1991), to the
role of national interests in framing foreign reporting (Herman and Chomsky
1988; Nossek 2004) and to appeals to the nation to delegitimize certain politi-
cal movements as partial (Glasgow University Media Group 1976; Kumar 2005;
Schlesinger 1991). These studies show that although it is clear that journalists do
have relative autonomy in many respects, this autonomy works within a broader
interpretive framework, or reportorial language, that is shared by the audience.
In this sense, nationalism and the nation state are common-sense realities that
constitute a shared frame of reference between most journalists and audiences
and institutionalized in news organizations. Here we consider a particular form of
nationalism, which we refer to as a particularly western ‘liberal nationalism’ (see
Canovan 1996; Miller 1995; Tamir 1993). This refers to an ideology in which nation-
ally based liberal institutions are considered to serve the nation as a whole rather
than one class and in which (an assumed) national unity should be preserved.
Here we look at how the BBC News Online’s reporting of Hugo Chavez
and the Bolivarian revolution in Venezuela between 1998 and 2008 employs
a liberal nationalist framework that allows BBC journalists to frame the situa-
tion without recourse to political debate, and allows them to take sides without
appearing to do so explicitly. Insofar as there are different, competing narratives,
we find that they are structured in such a way as to give discursive preference
to ‘the nation’, represented by ‘the opposition’, whose class basis is unrecog-
nized. In this sense, the dominant class interests of the Venezuelan ‘nation’ are
used to frame the Bolivarian revolution, without, of course, stating this class
basis explicitly. We find that appeals to national unity, and the emphasis on
disruption and threat to national unity, seem to override other concerns, struc-
turing the overall narrative as one in which an external threat (Chavez) misleads
Venezuelans to misunderstand their real (national) interests.
In the broader study from which this article is drawn, an analysis of a larger
collection of 304 articles published on the BBC News Online website between
1998 (when Chavez was first elected) and 2008 (the beginning of the study) was
used to get a sense of the overall balance of articles. We gathered the articles by
using the BBC’s own search engine, searching for ‘Venezuela’, and then augment-
ing this with a Google search: ‘Venezuela site: news.bbc.co.uk’. We then manu-
ally collated the articles to exclude those with only minor mentions, for example, if
Venezuela was merely mentioned as being present at a meeting. Here we under-
take a close textual analysis of a sample of articles drawn from the larger study.
Here we are interested in how BBC News Online communicate their understand-
ing of the social, economic and political divisions that frame Venezuelan politics.
We were especially interested in the significance of these divisions as explanatory
factors in understanding support for and opposition to the Bolivarian Government
of Venezuela, for example whether there would be any recognition of class, how
it would be framed, how evident divisions are dealt with and what the causes are
said to be. The ways in which this division is recognized and dealt with can help
illustrate ideological tendencies in the BBC’s news reporting.
MEDIA AND NATIONALISM
Here liberal nationalism is conceptualized as an ideological trope that
transcends all particular interests. The nation itself stands above particularity
yet masks the conditions under which it exists, such as class rule, class
MCP_7.3_Salter_253-273.indd 254MCP_7.3_Salter_253-273.indd 254 12/20/11 11:29:13 AM12/20/11 11:29:13 AM
Class, nationalism and news
struggle and the artificiality of the traditions, customs and institutions through
which it is identified, as well as the mythological status of its official history
(Hobsbawm and Ranger 1983).
Nationalism is partially sustained through media institutions and discourses
(Anderson 1991; Billig 1995; Smith 1991). As Morley (2000: 107) put it, national
broadcasting systems create a sense of unity and mass experience in a popu-
lation. Despite the supposed globalization of culture and media, mainstream
media remain crucial supports for national identity (Price 1995; Schlesinger
1991; Smith 1991), national frames of reference remain strong and the perspec-
tive of the home state continues to be shared by national and international
news media (Hallin 1992; Herman and Chomsky 1988; Nossek 2004; Waisbord
A number of studies looking specifically at social and political conflicts
in western liberal democracies have identified nationalist frameworks that
operate to construct ‘the nation’ as an entity that is threatened by sections
of the population – the slum dwellers – who stand outside acceptable norms
of bureaucratically constrained political behaviour (Fishman and Marvin 2003;
Hall et al. 1978; Hallam and Street 2000; Schlesinger 1991: Chapter 5),
especially in the realm of industrial conflict (Glasgow University Media
Group 1976; Kitch 2007; Kumar 2005). Nationalism has been shown to have a
conservative function in responding to outbreaks of industrial action, whereby
particular interests operate through universalizing appeals (Kumar 2005).
Thus we see the conflation of dominant class interests with national interests,
which means that those who challenge dominant class interests come to
be considered as enemies of the national interest. It is in this respect that
Gluckstein (1999) noted the tendency of the 1930s fascist ideology to frame
Marxists as enemies of the ‘national community’, as ‘treacherous murderers of
the nation’ and a ‘pestilence’ with a hold on ‘the nation’s neck’, stoking class
conflict. More recently Pan, Lee, Chan et al. (2001) pointed to the obfuscation
of political conflict under the narrative of the ‘family-nation’, based around
the interests of the capitalist class. It is this invocation of harmony within the
national family that enables corporate media to take the side of the owners
without appearing biased.
THE BBC: CLASS AND NATION
The BBC is widely recognized as an important news organization whose
journalism is based on accuracy, independence and impartiality. Indeed,
the government ‘Agreement’ on which the BBC’s existence is based stipu-
lates that the BBC Trust should ‘seek to ensure that the BBC gives informa-
tion about, and increases understanding of, the world through accurate and
impartial news, other information, and analysis of current events and ideas’
(Department for Culture, Media and Sport 2006: 3).
The BBC’s Editorial Guidelines make this commitment more thor-
oughly. According to the Guidelines, BBC News should ‘strive to be accu-
rate and establish the truth of what has happened’ and ‘weigh all relevant
facts and information to get at the truth’. BBC News should ‘be honest
and open about what we don’t know and avoid unfounded speculation’.
BBC News should also ‘strive to be fair and open minded and reflect all
significant strands of opinion by exploring the range and conflict of views’.
Furthermore it commits BBC News to being ‘objective and even handed in
our approach to a subject. We will provide professional judgments where
MCP_7.3_Salter_253-273.indd 255MCP_7.3_Salter_253-273.indd 255 12/20/11 11:29:13 AM12/20/11 11:29:13 AM
Lee Salter | Dave Weltman
appropriate, but we will never promote a particular view on controversial
matters of public policy, or political or industrial controversy’. Finally, it
asserts BBC News’s independence from ‘both state and partisan interests’
(BBC 2005: 7).
Despite this context, the BBC is a site of discourse, marked by these insti-
tutional arrangements, its ‘news culture’ (Allan 2004), its interfaces with
other institutions and broader hegemonic systems of representation. From its
inception, one of the key roles for the BBC was to engage a national frame-
work for the interpretation of events. The BBC was thus an institutional site
of discourse through which knowledge of the world would be structured. As
with any other institution, its processes of recruitment and socialization draw
staff who share those institutional goals, which then form part of the embod-
ied institutional culture.
The BBC has changed significantly over time, as did the deeply entrenched
dominant class hegemony, yet its news culture retains much of the Reithian
culture, especially in respect of the dominant conception of the nation (outside
hard news, the BBC has diversified to embrace a broad conception of the
nation, yet it is still marked by particularly liberal nationalist values). A number
of scholars have noted the central role played by BBC News in establishing
a broad and flexible national identity within the United Kingdom, anchored
in dominant class interests that seem to belie its professional commitments
(Williams 1974: 33–34; see also Briggs 1986; Scannell and Cardiff 1991). Philo
(1995) and Creeber (2004) also note the strong consensual orientation that
masked class control in the early days of the BBC, which carried on in less
explicit form throughout the twentieth century.
The subtlety of institutionalized discourse, and the more recent plurali-
zation of Britishness (which includes the BBC transforming its recruitment
processes to draw from a broader range of ethnic and class backgrounds), has
not meant that the core understanding of the nation as a good and necessary
entity has disappeared. Class and group fractions are still largely overcome
in news discourses, the good of the nation is prioritized over class struggle
(especially during industrial disputes) and dominant historical narratives still
bind a diverse population around the ‘we’, and still largely revolve around
elite history and feed into dominant interpretive frameworks.
The general class bias in elite journalism is shown in the findings of the
Sutton Trust’s (2006) research. The proportion of the top 100 journalists
who attended private schools has risen over the past twenty years, from
49 per cent in 1986 to 54 per cent in 2006, and the proportion who had
attended either Oxford or Cambridge University remains around half. Of
the BBC journalists included in the report, more than half attended Oxford
or Cambridge. The liberal nationalist tendencies of BBC journalists can
be observed in media outputs of key correspondents such as Cambridge-
educated Jeremy Paxman’s (1999) book The English, Cambridge-educated
Andrew Marr’s television programmes History of Modern Britain (2007)
and Britain from Above (2008) and television programmes by Oxford-
educated Peter Snow’s Battlefield Britain (2004) and Oxford-educated David
Dimbleby’s A Picture of Britain (2005) and How We Built Britain (2007).
As Steve Pope (1999: 57) puts it, ‘White middle-class men dominate the
national media, and it has to be said that the interests and culture of this
group manifest themselves not only in the news agenda but also in how
these stories are written’.
MCP_7.3_Salter_253-273.indd 256MCP_7.3_Salter_253-273.indd 256 12/20/11 11:29:14 AM12/20/11 11:29:14 AM
Class, nationalism and news
The class-based liberal nationalism underpinning BBC reporting is some-
times explicitly recognized, as when a government minister commented on
the BBC’s reporting on strikes in the 1970s:
No obligation of impartiality could absolve the broadcasting services
from exercising their editorial judgement […] within the context of the
values and objectives of the society they are there to serve. The BBC
have as trustees for the public to judge not only what is best in news
terms, but what is in the national interest.
(cited in Garnham 1978: 19)
More recently, where there has been increasing diversity, it has actually been
incorporated into a reformulated nationalism (Curran 2002). It is precisely
diversity, tolerance and pluralism that become (ideologically) constitutive of
Britishness. Nationalism thus remains a core value of the BBC, and the role
of broadcasting in the construction and maintenance of the ‘national family’
remains crucial for domestic news (Cardiff and Scannell 1987; Morley 2004),
but we show that the notion of a class-blind ‘national family’ also pervades
reporting of news abroad.
In this sense, official histories have strong class-based ideological under-
pinnings, as demonstrated by Marxist historians (Thompson 1980; Williams
1961). Indeed, the narrowness of official histories drawn upon by the BBC in
news and documentaries, and their mythical-ideological underpinning, has
been criticized in a number of studies (Chapman 2007; Harrison 2007; Philo
and Berry 2004; Qing 2007).
Here we argue that if liberal nationalism is ingrained into the culture of
the BBC, then the interpretive framework employed by correspondents will
ignore or downplay the fragmented class basis of a political order, wherein
deviations from a consensus-oriented, liberal nationalism become incom-
prehensible. In this sense, the Bolivarian revolution would be understood as
resulting not from legitimate and constructive class conflict, but from wanton
destruction aimed at the heart of the national family of Venezuela. Indeed,
rather than following Pan, Lee, Chan et al. (2001), in identifying a situation
in which conflict is obscured under the family-nation, we identify a situation
in Venezuela where the nationalist viewpoint is drawn out through explicit
reporting of political ‘polarization’. In this sense, we suggest that appeals to
national unity, grounded in a particular historical narrative, allow journal-
ists to appear neutral by foregrounding the interests of ‘the nation’ without
expressly articulating them beyond the maintenance of a mythologized stabil-
ity and national unity facilitated by liberal democratic institutions. This is to
say that a particular traditionally established nationalism allows a dominant
ideology to be expressed indirectly, and against which class-based political,
social and economic conflicts are to be neutralized as alien and unnatural.
Of course, the actual process of newsgathering impacts on the media
construction of events, and it is clear from discussions with BBC correspond-
ents that local stringers and other journalists in Caracas have a significant
influence on the interpretation of events. Documents released by Wikileaks
(2011) and in Golinger’s (2007) study show clear and sustained collabora-
tion between ‘the opposition’, commercial media and the US government
in opposing the Venezuelan government. It is within this mileux that BBC
correspondents live and work, and with all of the normal economic and social
MCP_7.3_Salter_253-273.indd 257MCP_7.3_Salter_253-273.indd 257 12/20/11 11:29:14 AM12/20/11 11:29:14 AM
Lee Salter | Dave Weltman
constraints on newsgathering, sense can be made of how they become aligned
with certain discourses on Venezuela.
NATIONAL HISTORY AND REPORTORIAL FRAME: THE MYTH OF
VENEZUELAN EXCEPTIONALISM AND THE RISE OF THE BOLIVARIAN
MOVEMENT IN VENEZUELA
As Philo and Berry (2004) demonstrate, the selection of a particular historical
narrative of a situation greatly affects reportorial frames, forming part of the
thematic framework. The selection may be influenced by dominant sources,
accepted ‘official histories’ or, as we suspect in the current situation, class expe-
rience. In addition to ‘presence’, reporting is influenced by ‘absence’ – in this
instance, the absence of class as a determining factor or material experience.
For example, BBC News Online’s interpretive framework appears to depend
on a particular historical narrative that is shared by the Venezuelan elite: a narra-
tive of a stable national tradition of democracy that sets Venezuela apart from
its neighbours and largely ignores the centrality of class conflict in Venezuelan
history. At the same time, there is an absence of recognition of the class experi-
ence of the vast majority of Venezuelans.
This clear in its early reporting, BBC News provides the frame for later
reports. The background provided in ‘Venezuela’s democratic record’
(7 December 1998) argues that ‘Venezuela is proud of its democratic record’
and that ‘many in his own country’ see Chavez as representing ‘a retrograde
step to the region’s past, where autocratic military leaders wielded personal
power for their own ends’. The BBC understands the history of Venezuelan
democracy as an exception in the ‘region’, and that its democratic record is a
source of national pride for the nation as a whole.
That Chavez stands outside this national tradition of democracy and
poses a threat to it is identified very early on in the BBC’s reporting. In 1999
‘Venezuela’s dictatorship’ (31 August 1999), written by ‘an assembly member
Jorge Olavarria’, a former Chavista, outlined this threat. The BBC reported
that in Chavez’s Venezuela ‘there is no such thing as the rule of law. There
is a dictatorship through the Constitutional Assembly which is completely at
the service of President Chavez’ and allows Olavarria to make an unopposed
analogy to Hitler. At the outset, Chavez is identified as a demagogue, with
the Hitler analogy placing him as an outsider, foreign to Venezuela’s national
tradition of democracy.
However, researchers have identified the history that the BBC relies on as
a myth. Whereas the BBC paints a picture of a stable, unified, effective demo-
cratic system that is disrupted by the arrival of Chavez, historical research
paints a different picture. On this account Venezuela was far from a unified,
stable system before Chavez. Ellner and Salas explain that those who refer to
the exceptionalism of Venezuela,
[f]ailed […] to draw the connection between political exclusion and the
related phenomena of clientelism, on one hand, and the violation of
human rights, electoral manipulation, and corruption, on the other […]
they took the legitimacy of the institutional mechanisms that guaran-
teed stability for granted. The same defects of electoral fraud, corrup-
tion, and repression that scholars pointed to as contributing to the crisis
of the 1990s had been apparent in previous decades.
(Ellner and Salas 2005: 11)
MCP_7.3_Salter_253-273.indd 258MCP_7.3_Salter_253-273.indd 258 12/20/11 11:29:14 AM12/20/11 11:29:14 AM
Class, nationalism and news
María Garcia-Guadilla (2005: 112) concurs, explaining that the inadequacy
of the exceptionalism thesis is illuminated by factors stretching into the
history of Venezuela. She explains that ‘[t]he notions of the exceptionalism
of Venezuelan democracy and civil society overlooked the socioeconomic and
political-ideological polarization that had been under way since the 1960s’
(see also O’Coker 1999).
As with the rest of Latin America, Venezuela has been marked by extreme
poverty set against a narrowly constituted elite of 5–10 per cent of the popu-
lation (Hoffman and Centeno 2003). Although Venezuela has not histori-
cally suffered the levels of poverty that have afflicted much of the rest of the
continent, between 1975 and 1995 poverty increased dramatically, with the
percentage of persons living in poverty rising from 33 per cent to 70 per cent
during that period. The number of households in poverty increased from 15
per cent to 45 per cent between 1975 and 1995. By 2000 wages had dropped 40
per cent from their 1980 levels. Wilpert explains that ‘other poverty measures
[…] are lower, but all of them paint a picture of a large increase in poverty over
the past 25 years’ (Wilpert 2007: 108). Indeed, by 1997 a total of 67 per cent
of Venezuelans earned less than $2 a day (Buxton 2004: 113). In contrast, as
Sylvia and Danopoulis (2003: 65) explain, ‘Weekend shopping trips to Miami
were the order of the day for the bourgeois classes. The oil riches, however,
did not trickle down to the bottom of Venezuelan society. A sizeable portion
of Venezuela’s population remained desperately poor’.
In the 1980s and 1990s, spontaneous popular demonstrations, strikes and
riots erupted in response to these deep-rooted political, social and economic
conflicts (Hillman 1994; McCoy 1995; O’Coker 1999), and against what Hillman
(1994) refers to as ‘democracy for the privileged’, or what Sylvia and Danopoulis
(2003: 64) call ‘subidized democracy’, and its policy outcomes, specifically the
acceptance of the Washington Consensus (Gott 2005). The recognition of long-
standing, deep-rooted political, social and economic conflict has been said to
shatter the myths regarding Venezuela’s supposedly unique social, economic
and political stability (Ellner 1997; Ellner and Salas 2005). However, neither the
BBC’s reports nor its contextual reports attribute significance to these events.
Also the reports from the period studied do not mention the Caracazo massacre
of, at the very least, 400 (up to 3000) protesters and students railing against IMF
(International Monetary Fund) austerity measures in 1989 (Hardy 2007: 29), the
same year as blanket coverage was given to the Tiananmen Square massacre.
Despite the centrality of class in Venezuela, the BBC explains the election
of Chavez as something that cannot be easily understood. Indeed, this lack of
understanding is comprehensible only if we understand Chavez as a decon-
textualized individual demagogue battling against Venezuela’s proud national
tradition of democracy (Sanoja 2007), that is, only if we ignore the class
dynamic behind him. With deeper consideration of Venezuelan history, we
can see that Chavez is merely the figurehead of a movement that responded
to political and economic crises.
As Lander (2005) points out, it was the crises that made possible the rise
of Chavez and the wider Bolivarian movement. Indeed, civil society organiza-
tions and social movements grew as the oligarchic political parties became
increasingly corrupt, nepotistic and detached from ordinary people, the demo-
cratic basis for the Bolivarian movement (McCoy 1995). Though the early
Bolivarian Revolutionary Movement was centred on the Venezuelan mili-
tary, it depended on alliances with other civilian social movements, such as
Movimiento al Socialismo (MAS), as well as on popular support (Gott 2005;
MCP_7.3_Salter_253-273.indd 259MCP_7.3_Salter_253-273.indd 259 12/20/11 11:29:14 AM12/20/11 11:29:14 AM
Lee Salter | Dave Weltman
Sanoja 2007). By the late 1990s, the movement had caught the imagination of
the masses and was no longer a vanguard movement.
It was the ‘underclass’ in the barrios that moved to support Chavez, which
has provided the core support for Chavez and consolidation of the revolution.
Whereas the organized working class had been integrated in the old political
system, the urban poor had been continually excluded from all social, politi-
cal, cultural and economic spheres. But as the organized working class had
suffered from the neoliberalism imposed in the 1990s, so their support for the
old system dwindled as support moved to Chavez, thus accounting for the
consistent support of 55–60 per cent of the population.
Having been unsuccessful in leading Bolivarian coup attempts in 1989
and 1992, Hugo Chavez was elected as the president of Venezuela for the
first time in 1998 with 56 per cent of the vote. His proposed constitution
was passed in 1999 with 72 per cent of the vote. Chavez was re-elected
in 2000 with 60 per cent of the vote, and although the main observer, the
Carter Center, found that there were faults with the electoral process,
including a lack of transparency, it stated that ‘the majority of Venezuelans
continued to support the radical reform program of President Hugo Chávez
through five more elections and referenda’ since 1998 and that ‘the presi-
dential election legitimately expressed the will of the people’ (Neuman and
McCoy 2001: 10). In 2004 Chavez won a recall vote, called by ‘the oppo-
sition’, which utilized provisions in the Bolivarian constitution, with 59 per
cent of the vote. The result was confirmed by the Carter Center, though the
European Union refused to observe because of what it regarded as unreason-
able restrictions on its observation. Chavez was most recently re-elected in
a general election of 2006, which he won with 63 per cent of the vote. The
result was confirmed by the Organization of American States, the European
Union, Mercosor (the South American free-trade zone) and again the Carter
Center. Chavez lost a referendum for a new constitution in 2007 by 51 per
cent to 49 per cent. Thereafter the Bolivarian party was, outside Caracas, the
biggest party of regional elections in 2008, won a 2009 constitutional refer-
endum and Chavez’s remained the biggest party in Parliament after the 2010
national elections. To set Chavez’s democratic support in perspective, victori-
ous parties in UK elections since 1979 have achieved between 35.3 per cent
and 43.9 per cent of the vote.
Despite massive popular support, from the outset the BBC framed
Chavez’s election as a possible threat to a rightful order (see below). For
example, reporting after the 2002 coup, the BBC explains that ‘the impact of
Mr Chavez’s “Bolivarian revolution” on Venezuela’s institutional framework
will prove harder to reverse’, which implies that Bolivarian institutions are
not ‘Venezuelan’ and that reforms ought to be reversed because of their alien
nature (‘Venezuela’s political disarray’, 12 April 2002). In this case BBC News
Online’s interpretive framework not only seems to ignore a class-fractured
history of political and social conflict but also removes the context through
which the rise of the Bolivarian movement is comprehensible. By 2007, the
BBC’s Q&A on the referendum tries to offer an ‘explanation’ for Chavez’s
election, asking, ‘Why does President Chavez have such a strong political
base?’ (Extract 9 below). The article recognizes Chavez’s assertions about the
previous two-party system being ‘oligarchic’, but gives no context for public
dissatisfaction relating to human rights abuses, poverty, political corruption,
the Caracazo Massacre, IMF austerity measures and so on. Furthermore it
presents the ‘destruction’ of the two-party system as the result of Chavez’s
MCP_7.3_Salter_253-273.indd 260MCP_7.3_Salter_253-273.indd 260 12/20/11 11:29:14 AM12/20/11 11:29:14 AM
Class, nationalism and news
will, rather than resulting from a democratic mandate confirmed by a consti-
tutional referendum supported by more than 70 per cent of the population.
‘THE OPPOSITION’ AS DEFENDERS OF THE NATION
The shortcomings of the BBC’s understanding of the past, and its ignorance of
class, operate not just to delegitimize Chavez but also to legitimize ‘the oppo-
sition’ as the true defenders of the once-harmonious Venezuelan nation and
its democratic tradition. It also serves to signify a unified source of democratic
resistance rather than a politically fractured class-bound set of groups coalesc-
ing around the old political and economic elite.
‘Opposition in Venezuela warning’ (12 April 1999) reports that ‘Opposition
leaders in Venezuela have appealed to the international community to inter-
vene to protect democratic rule’. The article ‘Sweeping powers for Venezuelan
assembly’ (13 August 1999) describes the fears of ‘critics’ that constitutional
reforms would end in ‘pseudo-democracy’ and autocracy, leaving the last
paragraph to Chavez to retort that he aims to create a ‘truly democratic institu-
tion’. In ‘Chavez opponents face tough times’ (6 December 2005) the US state
department, ‘opposition politicians’ and ‘experts’ berate Chavez’s reforms –
he is described as acting ‘like a totalitarian autocrat’; it is claimed that he ‘uses
parliament as a fig leaf of democracy’, and closes off ‘democratic spaces in the
Venezuelan state’. Although the BBC does report an expert’s opinion that ‘As
the conventional understanding of democratic governance diminishes, there is
a lot more social democratisation than ever before’, it sits uneasily in a frame-
work in which democracy is understood in terms of its proximity to the United
Kingdom’s Westminster model. Furthermore, the BBC’s own correspondent
ends by suggesting that ‘Mr Chavez will make an effort to appear more toler-
ant towards political opposition since a clause in the Mercosur agreement
binds member states to uphold democracy’ (emphasis added), which seems
to indicate that the opposition are the real source of democracy. Whereas the
national Parliament did lose power under Chavez, it did not necessarily mean
that there was a reduction of democracy. Rather, the Parliament was seen to
have served the oligarchy, sustaining the cosy relations fostered by the old two-
party system. It was for this reason that the Chavez government proposed in
the constitution to devolve power down to local communities, a proposal that
has been an important aspect of participatory and direct democratic theory
(Pateman 1970) and practice. If the BBC idealizes democracy as the limited
paradigm of an adversarial two-party system (which Venezuela had before
Chavez), then it is unsurprising that the elite rhetoric over the reform of the
political system that served them as undemocratic fits BBC frames.
Whilst the BBC invests legitimacy in ‘the opposition’, Garcia-Guadilla
(2005: 117–20) explains that on occasion the ‘social organizations of the
opposition and the popular sectors have locked themselves into alliances with
political parties, however discredited and delegitimized’. On other occasions,
those organizations have usurped the old parties, and the subsequent power
vacuum has led ‘social organizations of the opposition to look to the military
and has stimulated undemocratic civilian-military alliances’. Ultimately
Garcia-Guadilla explains the ‘opposition’ organizations as corrupt, class-
interested and often undemocratic in structure and action.
The key ‘civilian-military alliance’ was manifested in the coup that took
place against the elected government on 11 April 2002, which Eva Golinger’s
(2007) study shows was backed, at least rheotically, by the US government as
MCP_7.3_Salter_253-273.indd 261MCP_7.3_Salter_253-273.indd 261 12/20/11 11:29:14 AM12/20/11 11:29:14 AM
Lee Salter | Dave Weltman
part of a broader policy of destabilization and overthrow of the government.
The coup leaders – made up of business leaders, politicians of the old regime
and the military≈– overthrew Chavez for a couple of days before a popular
uprising of the poor, workers and the broad Bolivarian movement returned
him to his elected position.
The coup was at no point framed with reference to the tradition of US
usurpation of democratically elected governments in Latin America and
around the world (Agee 1975; Brody 1985; Chomsky 1992; Chomsky and
Herman 1979a, 1979b; Herman and Chomsky 1988). Rather, the mythical role
of ‘the opposition’ in defending the national tradition of democracy provided
a background for reporting the coup. BBC News published nine articles on the
coup on 12 April 2002, all of which were based on the version of events of the
coup leaders, who were, alongside the ‘opposition’, championed as saviours
of the nation.
Although BBC News did report the coup, the only time it mentioned the
word ‘coup’ was as an allegation of government officials and of Chavez’s
daughter, who, alongside ‘Cuba’, were the only voices opposed to the coup.
The BBC’s explanation was that Chavez ‘fell’, ‘quit’ or ‘resigned’ (at best at
the behest of the military) after his ‘mishandling’ of strikes (which, as Hardy
 reminds us, were actually management lockouts) and demonstrations
in which his supporters had fired on and killed protestors. ‘Oil prices fall as
Chavez quits’ explains that Chavez quit as a result of a ‘popular uprising’.
We are told in ‘Venezuela to hold elections within a year’ that ‘Mr Chavez,
who resigned after a three-day general strike in protest against his policies
ended in violence …’ (12 April 2002). In reporting this latter, Adam Easton,
the BBC’s correspondent in Caracas, wrote, ‘Film footage also caught armed
supporters of Mr Chavez firing indiscriminately at the marchers’ (‘Venezuela’s
new dawn’). The footage in question was broadcast by an oligarch’s channel
that had supported the coup and is now known to have been manipulated.
In ‘Venezuela’s political disarray’ (12 April 2002) the coup was framed as
a ‘restoration’ of democracy, with the subheading ‘Restoring democracy’ –
again drawing on the exceptionalism of pre-Chavez Venezuela. The seizure
of power by Pedro Carmona was described thus: ‘In forming a transitional
government Venezuela has looked not to an existing politician but to the head
of the business leaders’ association’. We see here that the small class of the
military and business elite that led the coup is Venezuela.
Given that Chavez won two elections and a constitutional referendum
prior to the coup, it is surprising that the BBC gave discursive privilege to the
coup leaders. The democratic intentions of the coup leaders were unques-
tioned. In ‘Venezuelan media: “It’s over!” ’ the BBC allowed the editor of El
Universal to declare unopposed, ‘We have returned once again to democracy!’
To further demonstrate the indigenous nature of the ‘unrest’ against the exog-
enous threat that is Chavez, all of the vox pops used in the nine articles were
from ‘opposition’ supporters. It is therefore reasonable to infer that ordinary
Venezuelans did not support Chavez, and that whilst the coup was ‘popular’,
the counter coup was not.
CHAVEZ AS THE AGENT OF POLARIZATION
Despite Chavez’s democratic mandate, he is constructed by the BBC not just as
an outsider, but as having been the agent of ‘polarization’ or ‘division’ within
the Venezuelan nation. Below is a selection of passages that illustrate this.
MCP_7.3_Salter_253-273.indd 262MCP_7.3_Salter_253-273.indd 262 12/20/11 11:29:14 AM12/20/11 11:29:14 AM
Class, nationalism and news
Correspondents say Venezuela has been bitterly polarised by more than
five years of Mr Chavez.
(‘Venezuela army officers arrested’, 9 July 2004,
Since first coming to power in 1998, Mr Chavez has polarised public
opinion in Venezuela.
(‘Marathon vote ends in Venezuela’, 15 August 2004,
Venezuela was polarised by the surprise victory of Mr Chavez –
Venezuela’s first president from an indigenous heritage – in presidential
elections in 1998.
(‘Chavez claims referendum victory’,16 August 2004,
The political divide in Venezuela is enormous and the decision not to
renew a licence for an opposition-aligned television station is exactly
the sort of issue that widens that rift.
(‘TV row widens Venezuela’s rift’, 25 May 2007,
The question now is whether the president will try and bridge the deep
divide that has emerged in Venezuela in the last few years, or whether he
will take advantage of their [i.e. the opposition’s] weakness to pursue
his own agenda even more aggressively.
(‘Analysis: Venezuela at a crossroads’,17 August 2004,
‘I invite my countrymen to talk, even to my most bitter enemies I
offer my hand,’ said Hugo Chavez, whose populist policies have split
(‘Chavez tells foes “accept defeat” ’, 21 August 2004,
Whoever wins the election will have to try to unite a deeply divided
country or face much political instability, the BBC’s Greg Morsbach
reports from Caracas.
(‘Polls close in Venezuela election’,
4 December 2006, emphasis added)
It will take even longer to heal the divisions which have emerged in the
last few years. That could take a generation.
(‘Crunch time for Venezuelans’, 14 August 2004,
MCP_7.3_Salter_253-273.indd 263MCP_7.3_Salter_253-273.indd 263 12/20/11 11:29:14 AM12/20/11 11:29:14 AM
Lee Salter | Dave Weltman
The implication then is that prior to Chavez’s presidency the country was not
‘deeply divided’ (Extract 7) and that social division reflects a subjectively felt
anomaly, disrupting a usually united nation. At times this is explicit in the
reference to ‘Venezuelan opinion’ or ‘public opinion’ being ‘split’, and to the
country having been ‘bitterly polarised’. In other words, it does not refer to actual
material, class ‘division’ or inequality, but to something of recent origin that can
be ‘healed’ (Extract 8), and so unity regained without recourse to transformation
in the material domain. The subjective experience remains, even if felt ‘deeply’,
a superficial division, with the nation remaining essentially united.
BBC News Online’s adherence to a dominant, class-bound historical
narrative leaves its journalists purblind to class division, leaving Chavez
as the exogenous ‘cause’ of the subjective ‘rift’ (Extract 4). Rather than
the figure of Chavez organically emerging out of the process of ‘polarisa-
tion’, thereby coming to symbolize and lead the mass movement, Extract
3 suggests it was merely the single discrete event of his ‘victory’ in the
election – as opposed even to the election process which climaxed in the
victory – which ‘polarised’ Venezuela. The relevant image here is of the
triggering of the divergent preferences of two groups of passive consumers
in response to an option already chosen by an independent process over
which they have no control.
But if Chavez is represented as lacking organic roots and if his democratic
legitimacy is questionable, how is his rise and indeed continuing mass support
to be explained? One answer is to simply suggest that this rise is a mystery,
with the president’s ascendancy being presented as a sort of bolt from the
blue. Thus there is reference to his ‘surprise victory’ in the 1998 elections
(Extract 4), and the 2004 referendum result is referred to as ‘an extraordinary
turn around, and one that defies easy explanation’ (‘Analysis: Venezuela at
the crossroads’, 17 August 2004). The institutional ignorance of working-class
experience in Venezuela leaves the journalist lost. Chavez’s supporters did not
appear as significant rational actors in the BBC’s reporting.
However, at times it appears that we are promised a more organic picture
of Chavez’s ascendancy. In an article entitled ‘Q&A: Venezuela’s referendum’
(30 November 2007) the final section reads as follows:
Why does President Chavez have such a strong political base?
From 1958 until 1998, Venezuela was dominated by two major parties,
the centre-right Christian Democratic Party (Copei) and the centre-left
Democratic Action (AD).
After his victory in the 1998 election, Mr Chavez, who had previously
tried to take control of the country in a failed military coup in 1992, set
out to destroy this two-party system, which he described as oligarchic.
President Chavez has been working to set up a socialist republic by
reforming the political and social systems.
He has nationalised key industries, such as telecommunications and
electricity. He has also increased government control of oil and gas
He has invested millions of dollars from Venezuela’s oil revenues into
MCP_7.3_Salter_253-273.indd 264MCP_7.3_Salter_253-273.indd 264 12/20/11 11:29:14 AM12/20/11 11:29:14 AM
Class, nationalism and news
Since 2003, he has maintained a strict price regime on some basic foods
like coffee, beans, sugar and powdered milk. This measure was designed
to curb inflation, but it has also led to shortages of staple foods.
Today Venezuelan politics is divided between a pro- and an anti-Chavez
camp. His supporters say he has given a political voice to millions of
poor Venezuelans who were disregarded by the ‘traditional’ political
His opponents describe him as a populist who is looking to entrench
himself in power.
The BBC’s attempt to contextualize fails to account for any sense of conflict,
class based or otherwise, that might explain the rise of the Bolivarian move-
ment. Rather, the passage as a whole presents a picture of Chavez as an
autonomous agent, and of the ‘divided’ political scene as exclusively a prod-
uct of his reforming will. There is a punctual beginning following the unex-
plained ‘victory in the 1998 election’. Omitting any of the history of struggle
from below, we abruptly find ourselves in the situation ‘[t]oday’, when
‘Venezuelan politics is divided between a pro- and an anti-Chavez camp’.
It again seems that instead of a material basis to the division, in terms of
underlying class cleavage, the picture is of divergent free-floating prefer-
ences, that is, between ‘supporters’ and ‘opponents’. It is not actually said
that those who might benefit most from the reforms – such as the ‘millions
of poor Venezuelans’ – form his base of ‘supporters’. The extent to which
such reforms have really benefited one side rather than another is qualified
in that his ‘strict price regime’ ‘has also led to shortages of staple foods’. This
point will be returned to below. There is rarely a significant recognition of the
proportion of ‘poor’, or ‘supporters’ or ‘opponents’. Rather there appears to
be a reasonable 50/50 division between those who ‘support’ without show-
ing explicitly that they might be active agents who benefit from the revolu-
tion, as opposed to his ‘opponents’ who may have as strong anti-democratic
class interest. The visual imagery used often feeds into this narrative. ‘Crunch
times for Venezuelans’ (14 August 2004) presents two photographs to repre-
sent ‘supporters’ and ‘opponents’. The former are represented by five chil-
dren queuing at a doorway with the caption ‘Chavez has spent millions on
social measures such as soup kitchens’, from which it is not unreasonable to
suggest a reading, given the context, that few actually benefit, that they are
young and impressionable and that perhaps ‘millions’ is too much for soup,
as well as the historical significance of ‘soup kitchens’. The ‘opposition’ is
represented by an aerial photograph of thousands (seemingly hundreds of
thousands) of people marching through Caracas with the caption ‘The oppo-
sition has been trying to get rid of Chavez for years’.
DIVISION, NON-NATION AND RATIONAL UNITY
Associated with the focus on symptoms is the message running through
the reporting of the (non-class) divide itself as existing for no good reason
outside Chavez’s desire, as if division for the sake of division, and so purely
destructive. The liberal nationalist viewpoint cannot understand why
members of a nation who are bound by their sense of collective identity could
be involved in conflict. Without consideration of class fracture, the situation
MCP_7.3_Salter_253-273.indd 265MCP_7.3_Salter_253-273.indd 265 12/20/11 11:29:14 AM12/20/11 11:29:14 AM
Lee Salter | Dave Weltman
At times (Extract 8), divisions are metaphorically represented as an illness
within the national body (cf. Perry 1983). The force of the recurrent foregrounding
of emotional ‘polarisation’ and ‘division’ is to suggest the opposite to a dynamic
socially transformative conflict: they mark a national paralysis. As one article
puts it, ‘Venezuela […] has been mired in political conflict and an economic
tailspin since President Chavez was briefly deposed in April’s coup’ (‘Talks
begin in troubled Venezuela’, 8 November 2002, emphasis added). To elaborate
on this we can note the operation of the ‘apophatic method’ (Medvedev and
Bakhtin 1978), which refers to the characterization of something – in this case
‘polarisation’ – negatively in terms of what it is not; that is, by means of ‘bare
negation’ and of dissimilarity to something else. Thus, rather than having any
independent positive historical content to it, ‘polarisation’ represents simply
negation of national unity. ‘Venezuela’s rift’ represents nothing other than the
‘Polarisation’, as non-nation, simultaneously includes nation. The
‘deeper’ the ‘polarization’, the more underlying national unity can be
affirmed as an a priori and inherent reality. Things are thus turned on their
head. Division, conceived as subjective, is presented as externally imposed
on the naturalized nation, rather than nation itself resembling an imposed
mystical veil that shrouds class conflict. So rather than real independent
class conflict involving the exposure of national unity as bourgeois mystifi-
cation which works to veil an inherent conflict of interests, what seems to be
anti-nation, destroying unity, here in fact ends up at the same time affirm-
ing national unity.
This same contradictory pattern at times manifests in a more concrete fash-
ion in the reports. The portrayal of Chavez as autonomous and floating above
the class divide includes the suggestion that despite having ‘supporters’ who
are occasionally recognized as coming from impoverished backgrounds, the
threat he poses extends to the entire population, regardless of class. This in
turn involves the reports adopting a transcendent universal standpoint in the
interests of the nation as a whole conceived as a class-neutral category. Chavez
divides in a way which brings people together, as a result of the consequent
shared hardship, which indicates the basic irrationality of political struggle as
something which only devastates. As a result, it is ‘othered’ as un-Venezuelan
(cf. Kumar 2005). Consider, for example, one of the few occasions where ‘divi-
sion’ or ‘polarisation’ is associated with objective inequalities.
‘Power to the poor’
Caracas is perhaps the physical manifestation of the divisions that wrack
this oil-rich nation of 26 million people.
The middle and upper classes tend to live in the flat, lower-lying areas –
many of which look as if they have seen better days. The poor live in
the barrios they have had to build for themselves on the surrounding
But while they live apart, both the poor and the middle classes, Chavistas
and anti-Chavistas, complain about high levels of crime and a serious
(‘Venezuela: A nation divided’, 27 November 2006,
MCP_7.3_Salter_253-273.indd 266MCP_7.3_Salter_253-273.indd 266 12/20/11 11:29:14 AM12/20/11 11:29:14 AM
Class, nationalism and news
In the third paragraph of Extract 10 it is suggested that class differences do not
translate into divergent concerns, but rather these concerns are shared by all.
There is both a class-based explanation for Chavez’s support, with the ‘poor’
more likely to be ‘Chavistas’, and its denial through a suggested disjuncture
between class position and experience of hardship. The ‘division’ is affirmed
in the description of respective neighbourhoods and undermined in that prob-
lems span the divide. Furthermore, according to the second paragraph, it is
also areas where middle and upper classes live that ‘have seen better days’.
People come together in a shared experience which transcends class division.
The same contradictory theme is expressed in a section of an article
(‘Venezuela’s Waiting Game’ 22 February 2004) which has been describing
the tense lead-up to the referendum of April 2004.
[…].the atmosphere is already turning ugly.
Decline and disorder
It is certainly not what the international community was hoping for
when all sides signed up to the referendum process as far back as May
That was after nearly two years of violent political turmoil.
First a coup that almost toppled President Chavez. And then a two-
month-long national strike organised by the opposition. The govern-
ment survived but the economy was brought to its knees.
These upheavals have left Venezuelans deeply divided. When Hugo Chavez
was elected in a landslide five years ago, he offered a vision of a more
just society that would bring people together.
Somewhere along the line, that dream turned sour.
President Chavez blames a wealthy, self-interested elite who refuse to
give up any of their considerable political and economic clout.
His opponents believe it is the president who has accumulated too
much power. They say he is a communist dictator in the mould of the
Cuban leader Fidel Castro.
What is clear is that everyone is worse off than they were a few
(22 February 2004, emphasis added)
Rather than having brought ‘all sides’ ‘together’ in a positive sense of recon-
ciliation, there have been ‘upheavals’ which have ‘left Venezuelans divided’,
such that a negative bringing together has taken place through ‘the economy’
being undermined and ‘everyone’ being ‘worse off’. The message could be
said to carry the following moral: if through a reforming will one interferes
with natural national unity, unintended consequences in the form of hard-
ship for all may arise, and thus the reality of natural unity will reassert itself.
Hence Chavez is at the same time both destroyer and, inadvertently, saviour
of the nation. The notion that the reforms to the constitution were volun-
teered by the citizens, that participatory democracy might empower a tradi-
tionally excluded class, is largely absent.
MCP_7.3_Salter_253-273.indd 267MCP_7.3_Salter_253-273.indd 267 12/20/11 11:29:14 AM12/20/11 11:29:14 AM
Lee Salter | Dave Weltman
FAMILIAL BEHAVIOUR AND THE NATION
If inherent national unity represents a priori reality and a rational order, and
yet there is mass popular departure from this reality through ‘polarization’,
then we have a picture of a nation at odds with itself. This notion is worth
considering in more detail through looking at a longer article, ‘Crunch times
for Venezuelans’ (14 August 2004).
To take the two final sections (entitled respectively, ‘Years of Conflict’
and ‘Divisive’), the nation-as-family metaphor (Kumar 2005; Lakoff 1995;
Pan, Lee, Chan et al. 2001) works to emphasize the fundamentally foreign
and destructive status of the divisions, opposed to the ‘shared’ interests of the
national family. ‘Years of Conflict’ tells the story of how one person’s support
for Chavez led him to neglect his friend (Sandra Sierra) who was ‘confronted’
by Chavez supporters. ‘Divisive’ tells of how ‘politics’, and especially Chavez,
has caused the break-up of families.
To the extent that individuals who make up a family or friendship relation
are likely to share a similar social position in society, this can again help rule
out any potential material basis to the fracture – thus helping to connote the
strange, out-of-the-blue and irrational manifestation of division. The notion
of the conflict appearing as if out of nowhere is well expressed in the sugges-
tion of ‘physical violence’ ‘erupting’ spontaneously, unexpectedly, certainly
not as a natural consequence of deep material inequality. In this sense it is
redolent of the account of the unexpected ascendancy of Chavez.
It is useful to compare this pattern to Burke’s discussion of the ‘non-economic
“cause” ’ of national disturbances, and the ideological refusal
[…] to consider internal political conflict on the basis of conflicting
interests. […] People so dislike the idea of internal division that, where
there is a real internal division, their dislike can easily be turned against
the man or group who would so much as name it, let alone proposing to
act upon it. Their natural and justified resentment against internal divi-
sion itself, is turned against the diagnostician who states it as a fact. This
diagnostician, it is felt, is the cause of the disunity he named.
( 1984: 70–71 Original emphasis)
A particular version of crowd psychology is in play in the BBC reports here.
Chavez, it seems, is responsible for fostering a generalized delusion which
is manifested in the form of irrational and unnatural acts, motivated by a
kind of madness. People, it is implied, could not by themselves act as they
do. The statement, ‘We did not perceive of our society as being so divided
that you couldn’t talk to or understand those on the other side of the politi-
cal spectrum’ by a source in the article suggests a realization of the alien state
of mind which this communication gulf represents. The ‘we’ operates here as
an exclusionary metonym for the nation – certainly ‘we’ does not include the
poor and ignores the history of human rights abuses outlined above. It seems
people would not be in this state if it were not for Chavez. We can apply the
same points to the first four lines of the article, where it is ‘extreme emotions’
which are ‘tearing’ the ‘country apart’. Such ‘emotions’ reflect the destructive
influence of Chavez, rather than self-determining political actors.
Interestingly, the claim made by Sandra Sierra in the ‘Years of Conflict’
section that ‘[i]t was like he’d completely forgotten we were best friends’
suggests not that the state of being ‘best friends’ was now destroyed and
MCP_7.3_Salter_253-273.indd 268MCP_7.3_Salter_253-273.indd 268 12/20/11 11:29:14 AM12/20/11 11:29:14 AM
Class, nationalism and news
non-existent, but rather he (in his alien mindset) had ‘forgotten’ its ongoing
existence. Similarly, one might say, it is as if Venezuelans had been made to
‘forget’ that they are part of the same national family. At the same time that
Chavez may be trying to make people forget their essence, the essence is so
strong that Chavez cannot eradicate it entirely. Indeed because of the resil-
ience of the nation, his attempts to unsettle relations remind Venezuelans of
their real, shared national interests. The ‘turmoil’ has taken its toll on things –
whether ‘the economy’ or personal ‘relationships’ – which are shared, with its
negative effects transcending class.
Without this realization we have a portrait of collective self-alienation due
to mass amnesia. The image of self-alienation is represented in the suggestion
of in-fighting between formally equivalent national citizens (Chavez’s ‘fiery
rhetoric has set Venezuelan against Venezuelan’). This account brings to mind
Anderson’s (1991) discussion of how nationalist consciousness is able to retro-
spectively construct past conflicts between combatants sharing no common
national bonds in the ‘reassuring’ terms of fratricide. The invention of the
‘American Civil War’ by its victors is one of the examples offered. In this eter-
nalizing discourse, regardless of what happens, the antagonists will always be
brothers, just as in the imaginative horizon of the BBC reports they will always
be Venezuelans. The significance of the reports, however, is their suggestion
of the exogenous nature of the violence between Venezuelan brothers.
Any possibility of understanding the situation as a rational, collective
political response to historical conditions is obliterated by the clear identifi-
cation of the Bolivarian movement as an unruly mob reacting to, and led by,
the ‘totalitarian autocrat’. The ‘mob’ constitutes the threat to the basic values
of the nation, yet in the BBC reports it is both pro- and anti-Chavez collec-
tives that manifest the primitive crowd psychology under the disorientating
influence of Chavez. Again, neither ‘side’ can be judged by the content of
their politics as they do not really know what they are doing. This contrasts
with people demonstrating ‘remembered’ rational national consciousness,
and who are certainly not ‘moved by base emotions’. In fact the only element
of the article that lends itself to judgement of the ‘sides’ is the photographical
element. The sides are represented in two of the images anchored in the text,
as noted above.
BBC News Online’s reporting on Venezuela has clear flaws in terms of its
own editorial guidelines. It is clear that the BBC’s interpretation of the
situation is underpinned by a particular – and discredited – national history,
the exceptionalism thesis. This selective use of history – reminiscent of the
BBC journalists’ documentaries about Britain mentioned earlier on – cannot
provide the organization with the conceptual framework with which to
understand the present.
Furthermore, the BBC’s more general liberal nationalist worldview
prevents comprehension of the fundamental basis of the conflicts perceived
by its journalists. As the focus on national well-being masks the fundamental
class divisions that have animated Venezuelan politics and social life for
many decades, those class divisions cannot themselves become part of the
Whilst the commitments shown in the BBC’s Editorial Guidelines are laud-
able, they seem not to have been achieved in this instance. ‘The truth of what
MCP_7.3_Salter_253-273.indd 269MCP_7.3_Salter_253-273.indd 269 12/20/11 11:29:14 AM12/20/11 11:29:14 AM
Lee Salter | Dave Weltman
has happened’ is not comprehensible in the here-and-now. Truth, like facts,
has history. Certainly it appears that the BBC’s reports have not been commit-
ted to reflecting ‘all significant strands of opinion by exploring the range and
conflict of views’. And perhaps the most significant problem is that its attempt
to be ‘even handed’ masks the inequitable basis of the situation itself.
We are left trying to understand why, in a practical sense, such bias has
been observed in BBC News Online’s coverage of Venezuela. Whilst the role
of a liberal nationalist ideology does seem to explain the emphases in the
coverage, the notion of relative autonomy and the journalist-as-agent leaves
us with something of a gap in the study. The next stage will investigate the
practical activity of BBC journalists and editors covering Venezuela.
Hardy suggests that in respect of Venezuela, news audiences tend to be given
‘the perspective of an international correspondent […] who works in a down-
town office building of an opposition newspaper and lives in an apartment in a
wealthy neighborhood’ (Hardy 2007: 5). Indeed, the BBC’s accommodation for
their correspondents is in the exclusive Alta Mira area of Caracas. This arrange-
ment is unsurprising given the crime rate in Caracas. Crucially, this arrangement
means the lived experience and social networks (and thereby trusted sources of
information) of correspondents tend to be within middle-class communities. It
is also worth noting the role of stringers working in Caracas, who were instru-
mental in painting a particular picture of the 2002 coup given access problems
and resource limitations at the BBC (personal correspondence with Caracas
correspondents); they are also largely drawn from the private media organiza-
tions in Venezuela. ‘Venezuela: A nation divided’ gives an indication of how
this restricted pool can colour reporting. In the article, Caracas stands in for the
whole of Venezuela; moreover, the divisions are expressed in vox pops taken in
Alta Mira, Las Mercades and Chacao, which are the three most exclusive neigh-
bourhoods in Caracas and can be traversed on foot in less than an hour.
Agee, Philip (1975), Inside the Company: CIA Diary, London: Penguin.
Allan, S. (2004), News Culture, Buckingham: Open University Press.
Anderson, B. (1991), Imagined Communities, London: Verso.
BBC (2005), ‘Editorial guidelines: The BBC’s values and standards’. Online at
http://www.bbc.co.uk/editorialguidelines/guidelines/ accessed May 15 2011.
Billig, M. (1995) Banal Nationalism London: Sage
Briggs, A. (1986), The BBC: The First Fifty Years, Oxford: OUP.
Brody, R. (1985), Contra Terror in Nicaragua, Cambridge, MA: South End Press.
Burke, K. ( 1984), ‘The rhetoric of Hitler’s “battle” ’, in M. J. Sapiro (ed.),
Language and Politics, Oxford: Blackwell, pp. 61–80.
Buxton, J. (2004), ‘Economic policy and the rise of Hugo Chavez’, in S. Ellner
and D. Hellinger (eds), Venezuelan Politics in the Chavez Era, Boulder, CO:
Lynne Rienner Publications, pp. 113–30.
Canovan, M. (1996), Nationhood and Political Theory, Cheltenham: Edward
Cardiff, D. and Scannell, P. (1987), ‘Broadcasting and national unity’, in
J. Curran, A. Smith and P. Wingate (eds), Impacts and Influence, London:
Methuen, pp. 157–173.
Chapman, J. (2007), ‘Re-presenting war: British television drama-documentary
and the Second World War’, European Journal of Cultural Studies, 10: 1,
MCP_7.3_Salter_253-273.indd 270MCP_7.3_Salter_253-273.indd 270 12/20/11 11:29:14 AM12/20/11 11:29:14 AM
Class, nationalism and news
Chomsky, N. (1992), Deterring Democracy, London: Vintage.
Chomsky, N. and Herman, E. (1979a), The Political Economy of Human Rights
Volume I: The Washington Connection and Third World Fascism, Nottingham:
—— (1979b), The Political Economy of Human Rights Volume II: After the
Cataclysm, Nottingham: Spokesman.
Creeber, G. (2004), ‘“Hideously white”: British television, glocalization and
national identity’, Television and New Media, 5: 1, pp. 27–39.
Curran, J. (2002), Media and Power, London: Routledge.
Department for Culture, Media and Sport (2006), ‘An agreement between her
majesty’s secretary of state for culture, media and sport and the British
Dimbleby, David (2005), A Picture of Britain [TV mini-series], 5 June, BBC 2.
—— (2007), How We Built Britain [Documentary], 16 June, BBC 1.
Ellner, S. (1997), ‘Review: Recent Venezuelan political studies: A return
to third world realities’, Latin American Research Review, 32: 2,
Ellner, S. and Salas, M. (2005), ‘Introduction: The Venezuelan exceptiona-
lism thesis separating myth from reality’, Latin American Perspectives,
Special issue on Venezuelan Exceptionalism Revisited: The Unraveling of
Venezuela’s Model Democracy, 32: 2, pp. 5–19.
Fishman, J. and Marvin, C. (2003), ‘Portrayals of violence and group diffe-
rence in newspaper photographs: Nationalism and media’, The Journal of
Communication, 53: 1, pp. 32–44.
Garcia-Guadilla, M. P. (2005), ‘The democratization of democracy and
social organizations of the opposition’, Latin American Perspectives, 32: 2,
Garnham, N. (1978), Structures of Television, London: BFI.
Glasgow University Media Group (1976), Bad News, London: Routledge and
Gluckstein, D. (1999), The Nazis, Capitalism, and the Working Class, London:
Golinger, E. (2007), The Chavez Code: Cracking US Intervention in Venezuela,
London: Pluto Press.
Gott, R. (2005) Hugo Chavez and the Bolivarian Revolution London: Verso.
Hall, S. Critcher, C., Jefferson, T. Clarke, J and Roberts, B. (1978) Policing the
Crisis London: Palgrave.
Hallam, E. and Street, J. (2000), Cultural Encounters: Representing ‘Otherness’,
Hallin, D. (1992), We Keep America on Top of the World, London: Routledge.
Hardy, C. (2007), Cowboy in Caracas: A North American’s Memoir of Venezuela’s
Democratic Revolution, Willimantic, CT: Curbstone Press.
Harrison, M. (2007), ‘China week on the BBC: The media making knowledge
and writing history’, Chinese Media Research, 3: 1, pp. 17–25.
Herman, E. and Chomsky, N. (1988), Manufacturing Consent, London:
Hillman, R. (1994), Democracy for the Privileged: Crisis and Transition in
Venezuela, Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner.
Hobsbawm, E. and Ranger, T. (1983), The Invention of Tradition, Cambridge,
Cambridge University Press.
Hoffman, K. and Centeno, M. A. (2003), ‘The lopsided continent: Inequality in
Latin America’, Annual Review of Sociology, 29, pp. 363–90.
MCP_7.3_Salter_253-273.indd 271MCP_7.3_Salter_253-273.indd 271 12/20/11 11:29:14 AM12/20/11 11:29:14 AM
Lee Salter | Dave Weltman
Kumar, D. (2005), ‘ “What’s good for UPS is good for America”: Nation and
class in network television news coverage of the UPS strike’, Television and
New Media, 6: 2, pp. 131–52.
Lander, E. (2005), ‘Venezuelan social conflict in global context’, Latin American
Perspectives, 32: 2, pp. 20–38.
Lakoff, G. (1995), Moral Politics, Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
McCoy, J. (1995), Venezuelan Democracy Under Stress, Boulder, CO: Lynne
Marr, Andrew (2007), History of Modern Britain [Documentary], 22 May, BBC 2.
—— (2008), Britain from Above [Documentary], 10 August, BBC 1.
Medvedev, P. N. and Bakhtin, M. M. (1978), The Formal Method in Literary
Scholarship, Baltimore, MD: John Hopkins University Press.
Miller, D. (1995), On Nationality, Oxford: Clarendon Press.
Morley, D. (2000), Home Territories: Media, Mobility and Identity, London:
—— (2004), ‘Broadcasting and the construction of the national family’, in R. Allen
and A. Hill (eds), The Television Studies Reader, London: Routledge.
Neuman, L. and McCoy, J. (2001), Observing Political Change in Venezuela: The
Bolivarian Constitution and the 2000 Elections Final Report, Atlanta, GA: The
Nossek, H. (2004), ‘Our news and their news: The role of national identity in
the coverage of foreign news’, Journalism, 5: 3, pp. 343–68.
O’Coker, T. (1999), ‘Globalization and state capital accumulation: Deteriorating
economic and political rights in Venezuela’, Latin American Perspectives,
26: 5, pp. 75–91.
Pan, Z., Lee, Chin-Chuan, Chan, J. M. and So, C. K. Y. (2001), ‘Orchestrating
the family-nation chorus: Chinese media and nationalism in the Hong
Kong handover’, Mass Communication and Society, 4: 3, pp. 331–47.
Pateman, C. (1970), Participation and Democratic Theory, Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press.
Paxman, J. (1999), The English: A Portrait of a People, London: Penguin.
Perry, S. (1983), ‘Rhetorical functions of the infestation metaphor in Hitler’s rheto-
ric’, Central States Speech Journal, 34, pp. 229–235, http://www.willamette.edu/
cla/rhetoric/courses/Rhetcrit/readings/Hitler.pdf. Accessed 15 May 2011.
Philo, G. (ed.) (1995), Glasgow Media Group Reader, Vol. II: Industry, Economy,
War and Politics, New York: Routledge.
Philo, G. and Berry, D. (2004) Bad News from Israel London: Pluto.
Pope, S. (1999), ‘The ignorance of middle England’, British Journalism Review,
10: 1, pp. 56–59.
Price, M. (1995), Television, the Public Sphere and National Identity, Oxford:
Qing, C. (2007), ‘China through western eyes. A case study of the BBC televi-
sion documentary roads to Xanadu’, European Journal of East Asian Studies,
6: 2, pp. 275–97.
Sanoja, P. (2007) ‘Institutions and Ideas: Explaining Political Change in Latin
America.’ Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Midwest Political
Science Association, Apr 12 Online http://www.allacademic.com/meta/
p198275_index.html accessed 12/01/2009.
Scannell, P. and Cardiff, D. (1991), A Social History of British Broadcasting,
Vol. 1, 1922–1939, Serving the Nation, Oxford: Blackwell.
Schlesinger, P. (1991), Media, State and Nation: Political Violence and Collective
Identities, London: Sage.
MCP_7.3_Salter_253-273.indd 272MCP_7.3_Salter_253-273.indd 272 12/20/11 11:29:14 AM12/20/11 11:29:14 AM
Class, nationalism and news
Smith, A. (1991), National Identity, London: Penguin.
Snow, Peter and Snow, Dan (2004), Battlefield Britain [Documentary], 6 August,
Sylvia, R. and Danopoulis, C. (2003), ‘The Chávez phenomenon: political
change in Venezuela’, Third World Quarterly, 24: 1, pp. 63–76.
Tamir, Y. (1993), Liberal Nationalism, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University
Thompson, E. P. (1980), The Making of the English Working Class, Harmondsworth:
Waisbord, S. (2002), ‘Journalism, risk and patriotism’, in S. Allan and B. Zeiler
(eds), Journalism after September 11, London: Routledge, pp. 201–219.
Wikileaks (2011), ‘Globovision Owners Acknowledge Defeat: El Nacional on
the Ropes?’, Wikileaks, http://wikileaks.org/cable/2010/02/10CARACAS219.
html. Accessed August 2011.
Williams, R. (1961), Culture and Society 1780–1950, Harmondsworth: Penguin.
—— (1974), On Television, Harmondsworth: Penguin.
Wilpert, G. (2007), Changing Venezuela by Taking Power: The History and Policies
of the Chavez Government, London: Verso.
Salter, L. and Weltman, D. (2011), ‘Class, nationalism and news: The BBC’s
reporting of Hugo Chavez and the Bolivarian revolution’, International Journal
of Media and Cultural Politics 7: 3, pp. 253–273, doi: 10.1386/macp.7.3.253_1
Dr Lee Salter is programme manager and senior lecturer in journalism at the
University of the West of England. His research focuses on technological, ideo-
logical and journalistic mediation of radical politics in a variety of contexts. He
has published in a range of journals and edited volumes, and his most recent
book Digital Journalism (with Janet Jones) analyses the shifting environments
in which journalists practice.
Contact: Programme Leader, Journalism, Senior Lecturer in Journalism and
Media Studies, Department of Media, Culture and Drama, University of the
West of England, Oldbury Court Road, Bristol, BS16 2JP, UK.
Dr Dave Weltman is lecturer in organisation studies at the University of the
West of England. Dr Weltman previously worked in the psychology depart-
ment at the University of Bath. His research focuses on discourse analysis in a
range of social contexts.
Contact: Department of Media, Culture and Drama, University of the West of
England, Oldbury Court Road, Bristol, BS16 2JP, UK.
MCP_7.3_Salter_253-273.indd 273MCP_7.3_Salter_253-273.indd 273 12/20/11 11:29:14 AM12/20/11 11:29:14 AM
Individual paper and panel contributions are invited for the inaugural conference of the European Popular Culture
Association (EPCA). EUPOP 2012 will explore European popular culture in all its different forms This might include
European Film (past and present), Television, Music, Celebrity, The Body, Fashion, New Media, Comics, Popular
Literature, Sport, Heritage and Curation. And more - we’ll be guided by the submissions. Closing Date for this call:
18th February 2012
This conference will launch the European Popular Culture Association. There will be opportunities for networking
and for developing caucus groups within the EPCA. Presenters at EUPOP 2012 will be encouraged to develop their
papers for publication in a number of Intellect journals, including the new Journal of European Popular Culture,
the journal of the EPCA, other ﬁlm journals including Film, Fashion and Consumption, and various music journals.
Journal editors will be working closely with strand convenors - a full list of Intellect journals is available at: http://www.
Papers and Complete Panels for all strands should be submitted to the email contact below. Paper/panel submissions
will be as always subject to peer review: Submit paper or panel proposals* to: firstname.lastname@example.org (The same address
should be used for general administrative queries)
The European Popular Culture Association
The European Popular Culture Association (EPCA) promotes the study of popular culture from, in, and about Europe.
Popular culture involves a wide range of activities, outcomes and audiences;EPCA aims to examine and discuss these
different activities as they relate both to Europe, and to Europeans across the globe, whether contemporary or historical.
CLOSING DATE FOR THIS CALL: FEBRUARY 18th 2012
EPCA and 2012 EPCA Conference Directors
EPCA President, Pamela Church Gibson email@example.com
Director of Research & Exchange, Graeme Harper firstname.lastname@example.org
Conference Administrator: Sarah-Jane Simpson email@example.com.
Sarah can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. We would suggest that you contact her speedily if you are coming from
abroad and are wanting to discuss the availability of accommodation. Although the conference is well in advance of the
Olympics, we have placed a notional hold on inexpensive hotel rooms and need conﬁrmation asap.
CALL FOR PAPERS
Inaugural Conference of the
European Popular Culture Association
11-13 July 2012
London College of Fashion, University of the Arts, London.
MCP_7.3_Salter_253-273.indd 274MCP_7.3_Salter_253-273.indd 274 12/20/11 11:29:14 AM12/20/11 11:29:14 AM