Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez was honoured in Argentina this week with a freedom of press award in recognition of “his unquestionable and authentic commitment to support the freedom of peoples.”
The University of La Plata presented Chavez with the prestigious Rodolfo Walsh Journalism award to pay tribute to the Venezuelan leader’s efforts "to support popular communication by breaking up media monopolies in Latin America."
Claudio Gomez, a journalism professor at the Universidad Nacional de La Plata said that the faculty’s decision to honour Chavez with the award “does not mean that the university agrees with certain measures his government has taken against critical mass media but it wishes to recognize for example his creation of the Telesur Channel.”
Created in 2005, Telesur is a state funded alternative to the continent's private television stations and covers Latin American and international news. It is considered to be an alternative voice to the massive privately owned media conglomerates, which Chavez highlights ‘seek to control the people.’
“One must fight the media dictatorship. The dominant classes always manipulate the communications media and trick the people through powerful psychological campaigns,” he said during his two hour acceptance speech at the university.
“There is more freedom of expression and press in Venezuela today than during any time in our history,” he claimed, stating that he was proud to receive the award even though “some people say the dictator Chavez doesn’t deserve it.”
The journalism award is named after the journalist Rodolfo Walsh who, after co-founding Cuba’s state-run news agency Prensa Latina, was killed during the Dirty War in 1977 when the military dictatorship in Argentina went about eradicating the country of dissidents.
Those opposed to the university’s choice stressed Chavez’s track record with the media. “He has closed more than 30 radio stations and six television channels,” pointed out Buenos Aires province congressman Jorge Macri. While Silvana Giudici, the head of the Argentine parliament’s commission for freedom of expression, said it was “inconceivable” and “a contradiction” to issue the award to the Venezuelan President.
But the university stuck by its decision to honour Chavez for “his commitment to defending the liberty of the people, consolidating Latin American unity, and defending human rights, truth, and democratic values.”
“You head a profound process of emancipation in Latin America,” said the university’s Dean Florencia Saintout, who announced that a new category of the Walsh award had been created for Latin American leaders committed to giving a voice to the people who are least heard from; adding that she hoped for an open debate about Chavez’s ideas.