Tuesday, July 30, 2013
By Nouran Sedaghat The Scotiabank/CJFE Journalism Fellowship is a program made possible through the generous support of Scotiabank that gives seasoned journalists in Latin America the opportunity to complete two semesters of study at Massey College, at the University of Toronto. Last year, the Fellowship was awarded to Venezuelan journalist Mary Triny Mena, an investigative reporter with the 24-hour news channel Globovision. We caught up with Ms. Mena to find out how life has changed in Venezuela as a result of developments that occurred both during and after her time in Canada. Tell us a bit about your path after the Fellowship. Where are you working, and what are you working on? Well, during the Fellowship, many changes occurred. My TV station was sold, and with that we have not only new owners but also new bosses. The day I landed back in Venezuela, the person who was my boss, running the investigative unit, resigned from her job. So, it has been three busy, complicated and challenging months. I work at Globovision, the only 24-hour news channel in Venezuela. I returned to my daily job as an investigative reporter. For the past 14 years, Globovision has been considered a critical TV station, with little or no access to government officials. We worked in difficult conditions. After Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez died and a new president, Nicolás Maduro, was elected on April 14, 2013, not only did the country change but a new Globovision was also born. The new owners say they want a more central editorial perspective. Eight journalists have resigned, two were fired, and we now have new programming. I can say that I’m working in the same place, with the same colleagues, but in a new job. Or better, I’m in the same job with a new perspective. I’m open to the positive changes but I know that this is history in the making. We have to wait for more changes. Thanks to the fellowship I feel confident and prepared, with stronger journalistic tools. Right now, I’m working on international stories, such as the Edward Snowden case. One of the good things about participating in the Fellowship in Canada is that it is now known that I speak English. Did you find that being away from Venezuela for so long changed the angle from which you approach the stories you encounter in your job? Have there been any notable changes in your worldview? Of course, I am a citizen of the world. I’m amazed at how I can better understand the international issues and tell the different points of view. For example, given one specific issue (let’s say Edward Snowden), the Latin American view, the American view, the European view and the Canadian view can all be quite different. I can say my worldview is more critical than optimistic. What are some of the major similarities and differences between the press in Canada and Venezuela? What about strengths and weaknesses? The Venezuelan press is really different from the Canadian press. We don’t have an access to information law. The media has been criticized, as I wrote about in The Globe and Mail. In public buildings like the National Assembly, journalists are not allowed inside the session. We don’t have access to statistics about murders every weekend. As you many know, Venezuela, and especially Caracas, has a high rate of violence; comparable to that of any country in a war zone. When I was in Canada, I had the opportunity to visit several media outlets and read their publications. I can say it looks pretty fair to me — there is little access to public servants like the Prime Minister, but nothing is perfect. In comparison to Venezuela though, well, you live in paradise! One of the big changes in Venezuela this year was the death of Hugo Chavez. You mentioned that he had left a legacy of surveillance over all forms of broadcast media. In the wake of his death, has anything changed? Has this affected your work, or the state of press freedom in Venezuela? Well, it’s the same. It is not only Globovision that has new owners; the biggest media house in Venezuela was also sold, Cadena Capriles, which owns five newspapers. However, the government has mandatory messages by law, called Cadenas. They still spend many hours on TV, both public and private. What do you make of Venezuela offering asylum to Edward Snowden? Do you think it has anything to do with protecting the rights of whistleblowers or is it more of a political move in light of relations with the U.S.? In my personal opinion, it is definitely a political move. The President is emulating Hugo Chavez — creating a national identity by using a foreign enemy. What are your plans for the future? Well, as I mentioned before, the transition has been overwhelming. I am pleased with the opportunity that I had in Canada. It has given me perspective, hope, and desire to keep growing and be a better journalist. That is my ultimate goal.