The Guardian Lacks Transparency As Writer's Conflict of Interest is Undisclosed

Blog: The Editors, 28 September 2012 | 3 Comments
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On 27 September The Guardian published a Comment is Free article by Venezuelan writer Francisco Toro. Entitled 'The Hugo Chavez cult is over', the comment piece rails against the 'mismanagement' and 'corruption' of the Venezuelan government, while praising the 'long-suffering opposition movement' and commending the opposition leader, Henrique Capriles, an 'energetic young state governor who has put pragmatism and problem solving at the centre of his campaign'.

The Guardian's profile on Francisco Toro notes that he has covered Venezuela as a freelance correspondent for the New York Times until 2003. It fails to inform readers that Toro resigned from his position as NYT correspondent due to a conflict of interest arising from his membership of the 'long-suffering opposition movement' in Venezuela. Toro wrote in his resignation letter to the New York Times that, 'Too much of my lifestyle is bound up with opposition activism at the moment, from participating in several NGOs, to organizing events and attending protest marches. But even if I gave all of that up, I don't think I could muster the level of emotional detachment from the story that the New York Times demands'.

In 2003 Toro became the subject of a Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) 'action alert', concerning his coverage of Venezuela for the Financial Times following his resignation from the New York Times. FAIR wrote: 'Toro is a fierce partisan in Venezuela's heated political environment, a participant in anti-government protests who posts name-calling attacks on President Hugo Chavez on his website. He describes himself as a "Venezuelan journalist opposed to Hugo Chavez" (Mother Jones, 3/1/03), and has written frankly about what he perceives as his own inability to impartially report the news from Venezuela'. This concern about the inherent bias in the writings of a journalist who has made clear his inability to cover Venezuela with the necessary 'emotional detachment' applies equally today.

The Guardian has a history of controversial reporting on Venezuela. (In July 2011, for example, The Guardian came under criticism from Noam Chomsky for what he called their 'extreme dishonesty' in the framing of an interview with the professor concerning Hugo Chavez.) It is of particular interest that in the run-up to the 7 October Venezuelan elections The Guardian should choose not to identify that they have provided a platform to a self-proclaimed opposition 'activist'. In a case such as this, when a writer has openly acknowledged that his political interests will prevent him from writing with 'detachment', it is essential that readers are made aware of this partiality. The Guardian's writer profiles provide sufficient opportunity for them to do so. In the interest of transparency The Guardian must fulfil this obligation.

Update: 29 September 2012 14:00

On 29 September The Independent highlighted Toro’s comments in the paper’s section, ‘The Comment Matrix’ (image below).

The excerpt reads:

‘Even supporters acknowledge Chavez’s experiment in 21st-century socialism isn’t working. That the economy doesn’t grind to a halt, amid the waste and corruption of central planning, is down to one word: oil. Sitting atop the world’s largest oil reserves at a time of extraordinarily high prices, the government is kept afloat by a torrent of petrodollars. (Francisco Toro, The Guardian) '

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Comments (3)

1. The Commenter28 September 2012 21:42

In fairness, it was in the 'comment is free' section. More of a speakers' corner than editorial comment.

2. The Editors29 September 2012 13:52

The Commenter: Yes, Comment is Free is not Editorial comment. The intention of Comment is Free is to ‘host hundreds of discussions every week on a wide range of topics, from across the world’, publishing ‘a plurality of voices’. Given this, we feel that if these voices have proven conflicts of interest, it is imperative for journalistic transparency and fair debate that these interests be identified to the reader.

To take for example other activist writers who contribute to Comment is Free, their profiles indicate where their interest lies.

Comment is Free published earlier this month an opinion article by Lindsey German, entitled ‘Why is the deluded, self-justifying Tony Blair given airtime?’, in which German discussed the effects of war and occupation in Iraq and Afghanistan. German is the convenor of the Stop the War Coalition and her Guardian profile points this out.

Ellie Mae O'Hagan contributes regularly to Comment is Free, analysing issues such as austerity and tax evasion. O'Hagan's profile informs us that she ‘is also an active member of UK Uncut’.


3. chris 29 September 2012 14:10

This is very much par for the course for the Guardian these days. Their bias is not confined to the Comment is Free pages. The overwhelming preponderance of artices relating to Venezuala, Russia and other countries regarded as 'enemies of the west' would receive vigorous nods of approval from the US state departments and UK foreign office.

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