Following the death of Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez on March 5, the BBC reported from the funeral:
'More than 30 world leaders attended the ceremony, including Cuban
President Raul Castro, Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus.
'A message was read out from Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.'
A rogues' gallery of the West's 'bad guys',
in other words. To the side of the main article, the BBC quietly noted
that, in fact,
'Most Latin American and Caribbean Presidents' attended the funeral, not
just the Bond villains.
Following the same theme, a BBC article appeared beneath a grim photo montage of Osama bin Laden, Chávez, Kim Jong-il, Muammar Gaddafi, Fidel Castro and Saddam
Hussein. The report asked: 'Is the era of the anti-American bogeymen at an end?'
Like many independent nationalists, Chávez
was not 'anti-American', although he was anti-empire. US foreign policy,
other hand, was certainly anti-Chávez, 'variously portrayed as a
six-times elected champion of the people or a constitution-fiddling
demagogue', the BBC piece noted.
Similar 'balance' was offered by the Guardian's Rory Carroll, lead author of the newspaper's Venezuelan coverage between 2006-2012:
'To the millions who revered him – a
third of the country,
according to some polls – a messiah has fallen, and their grief will be
visceral. To the millions who detested him as a thug and charlatan, it
will be occasion to bid, vocally or discreetly, good riddance.'
Fair comment, one might think, until we try to imagine a UK journalist writing anything comparable to the second sentence in
response to the death of a US president or UK prime minister.
And yet, unlike so many US and UK leaders of
recent times, Chávez did not invade nations, overthrow governments,
mass murder, mass torture, or mass starvation through sanctions. Indeed,
in his years as president from 1999-2013 he was not credibly accused of
single political murder.
If it is to be considered fair, condemnation
of Chávez should be proportionate to the extent of his alleged crimes
consistent with the level of condemnation directed at US-UK leaders' far
worse crimes. If Chávez gets much more for doing far less, we are in
the realm of propaganda, not journalism.
To be consistent, then, a senior Guardian journalist should respond to the death of George H.W. or George W. Bush, for example,
with something along these lines:
'To the tens or hundreds of millions who detested him as a mass
murdering and torturing thug, war criminal and charlatan, it will be occasion to bid, vocally or discreetly, good riddance.'