Here is the retraction the Toronto Star was forced to print - http://www.thestar.com/article/191111.

Hands Off Venezuela congratulates Maria and Antonio for the significant work they put into this press complaint. Anybody wishing to receive the background documents should write to canada@handsoffvenezuela.org.



13 March 2007

Dear Friends of Venezuela:


In May 2006, Antonio García Danglades and I brought a complaint against the Toronto Star to the Ontario Press Council for publishing that month four erroneous and unbalanced articles on Venezuela that alleged an increase in poverty and crime since President Hugo Chávez was elected. Ten months, two presentations to the Council and three letters to the Star later, we are pleased to inform you that the Ontario Press Council has upheld our complaint. The Council press release declared the following:

“A series of articles on Venezuela published in May 2006 lacked balance because of the absence of comment from government representatives, the Ontario Press Council says in upholding a complaint against the Toronto Star…
In upholding the complaint, the Council says that despite efforts to provide balance through interviews with ordinary Venezuelans, it regards the lack of official comment as a significant deficiency.”

The Ontario Press Council is the non-governmental body that upholds standards for newspaper journalism in this province and hears citizen’s complaints. It maintains that when newspapers present what purports to be a statement of fact, they should ensure that it is accurate and, when necessary, provide the source of the information. If the statement is found to be in error, the newspaper should be prepared to promptly publish a correction or clarification. A press release on the decision of the Council concerning our complaint was sent to all newspapers across Ontario and Canada. The Toronto Star, the newspaper with the largest circulation in the country, was obliged to publish it, and it has done so today.

We brought evidence to prove that the Toronto Star’s statements regarding poverty and crime in Venezuela were wrong, unsubstantiated and biased because the reporter relied on interviews with prominent members of the opposition. The articles disparaged Venezuelan statistics produced by the Venezuelan National Institute of Statistics, claiming they were unreliable, even though all countries and all major international organizations accept the work of that Institute as legitimate and reliable. The reporter quoted erroneous figures on poverty and crime given by the opposition and never once queried their sources or methodology and, most seriously, did not disclose to the public that the opposition was the source of this information.

Despite receiving a “carte blanche” from the Venezuelan Embassy in Washington to interview any member of the government he wished, the reporter did not interview a single member of the Venezuelan government, members of parliament, governors, directors of anti-poverty programs, the Venezuelan Institute of Statistics, or even members of the many political parties that support the government.

We presented evidence to the Ontario Press Council showing that one hundred and four foreign correspondents were given interviews with Venezuelan government officials in the prior 18 months period, a clear indication of the openness of the Chávez Administration towards the international media. Yet, inexplicably, the Star Chief Correspondent, alleged difficulties in obtaining access.

This incident is indicative of a widespread media campaign against the government of Venezuela and its President Hugo Chávez. We are very pleased with the Ontario Press Council process that allows ordinary citizens to challenge powerful media organizations. We urge you all to be vigilant and use all channels open to you whenever you see journalism that misinforms the public about what is really happening in Venezuela.

Attached, for your information are our presentations to the Council and the Council press release.

María Páez Victor
Antonio García Danglades


ONTARIO PRESS COUNCIL
PRESS RELEASE

ADVANCE FOR RELEASE TUESDAY, MARCH 13, 2007
TORONTO – A series of articles on Venezuela published in May 2006 lacked balance because of the absence of comment from government representatives, the Ontario Press Council says in upholding a complaint against the Toronto Star.

María Páez Victor and Antonio García Danglades of Toronto complained that the articles relied on opponents of President Hugo Chávez for what they described as erroneous information about poverty and unemployment.

They said the articles neglected to attribute to opposition sources the statement that 100,000 Venezuelans had been murdered since Chávez was elected in 1998, and that poverty remains “stubbornly high,” having “risen to more than 50 per cent during Chávez’s reign.” They said unemployment fell in 2006 to 10.1 per cent from 13.5 in March 2005 and the rate of poverty declined 10 per cent in a year.

Declaring that its “strong interest” in interviewing Chávez and/or government representatives was clear, the Star cited communications between the Venezuelan embassy in Washington and Caracas seeking to arrange such interviews. “The opportunity was offered and, in fact, aggressively pursued, but the government chose to ignore the requests.” In response the complainants said “not even the most rabid Chávez opponents accuse the Venezuelan government of not giving access to the international media – something that they are quite eager to do.”

Text of the adjudication:
Maria Páez Victor and Antonio García Danglades of Toronto complained that a series of four articles on Venezuela published in the Toronto Star in May 2006 contained erroneous information about poverty and crime, lacked balance and did not include interviews with members of the government but relied on sources opposed to the regime of President Hugo Chávez.

The Star said its strong interest in interviewing Chavez and/or government ministers was clear but that the government chose to ignore its requests. It added that, in the absence of information from government representatives, its reporter sought to provide balance by conducting many interviews with Venezuelans.

The Ontario Press Council says it believes only comment from government officials could offset criticism of the Venezuelan regime contained in the articles. It recognizes repeated appeals sent by way of the Venezuelan embassy in Washington failed to provide the reporter with access to government representatives in Caracas.

Having exhausted appeals made through official channels prior to leaving for Venezuela, however, the Press Council suggests the reporter could have used the warm recommendations from the Washington embassy and old-fashioned door knocking in a further effort to get to government spokespersons.

In upholding the complaint, the Council says that despite efforts to provide balance through interviews with ordinary Venezuelans, it regards the lack of official comment as a significant deficiency.

Mailed 8-03-2007
Document name: Victor-Danglades vs Toronto Star