Tinedo’s Choice

Is it right for the head the National Journalist’s Guild to join the Opposition Coalition’s leadership team? A lot of journalists don’t think so, and Tinedo Guía’s now been called out.

Two weeks ago, the MUD announced its long dealayed internal reorganization. Overall public reaction has been muted, but one specific group sat up to take notice, the Venezuelan Journalists’ Guild (known as Colegio Nacional of Periodistas or CNP). CNP’s current chairman Tinedo Guía accepted a post on MUD’s new collective leadership team: and not everyone at CNP thinks that’s a role you can combine with representing journalists.

Guía, a well-known radio personality, intends to run MUD’s a position he holds alongside labor lawyer Alfredo Padilla. He has said he accepted the job because it’s his civic duty and it wouldn’t clash at all with his current responsibilities as head of the CNP.

This is problematic, because the conflict of interest he’s setting himself up for is blatant: what if a CNP member discovers some embarrassing scandal about MUD? What if a journalist digs up direct evidence of wrongdoing on the part of another member of MUD’s new leadership team? An Odebrecht bribe, say, or something else? Would Tinedo Guía use his power to try burying the story? Whose side is he ultimately on?

But last week, internal discontent with Guía’s new role with the political coalition became public, after an alleged written statement signed by 17 regional CNP heads was published by several media outlets.

…your appointment as MUD Social coordinator, besides being surprising to a large number of CNP members, is counterproductive and not in keeping with your duties to the membership, for the harmful and damaging consequences that such designation could carry to the guild, already trashed and constantly attacked by the government and its representatives.

Anna Rosa Matheus, head of the CNP-Lara section was one of the signatories. She confirmed me in a phone interview both the content of the document and the overall displeasure with Guía’s actions. She said the statement was only for internal consumption and had leaked without consent. For the record, other CNP offices like Carabobo State distanced themselves from it.

Guía defended his position saying his new role doesn’t clash with the legislation that rules the work of journalists (Ley del Ejercicio del Periodismo). He’s right, in a narrow legal sense, but really this isn’t a legal problem. The issue is about ethics.

In an interview with El Estimulo (linked above), local media expert Andres Cañizalez said:

For me, there’s an incompatibility between the two tasks even if it’s not legally established, because is understandable that journalism is set off against (en la acera de enfrente) of the political power. Even if the MUD isn’t in power, it wants to reach it. If (Guía) feels as a citizen it is his duty is to support the MUD that’s legitimate, but if this is his priority then the healthiest course of action would be to step aside from the journalists’ guild.

In the meantime, the government and the hegemony are seizing the opportunity to do just what the rest of CNP’s journalists feared: undermine the CNP and use the controversy as a distraction from the recent shutdown of CNN en Español.

For Matheus, it’s not surprising. “They’re out to discredit the guild and to sow divisions among the membership”. And in case you’re wondering… yes, the hegemony has its own CNP (the Venezuelan Journalists’ Platform).

The issue is expected to be discussed in a special CNP meeting to be held in the next few weeks. Guía didn’t go to the first meeting at his new job in the MUD, but seems like he’s now actively working at it.

This all hits close to home. I’m a journalist and a card-carrying member of the CNP. In my view, Mr. Guía’s decision to join the MUD and continue as CNP chairman at the same time is not in the best interests of the guild or of our profession as a whole, especially at this critical time. I respect his reasons to join the MUD, but still consider the roles incompatible.

Article 26 of the Ethics Code of the Venezuelan Journalist says that “The Journalist has as an imperative duty to use all efforts to achieve the strengthening and success of the CNP”. If this is important for a simple rank-and-file member like me, it should be even more so for the Chairman.

Guía is right that “Venezuelans should not avoid their responsibilities”, but in these trying times, when the very existence of journalism in this country is at stake, the need for a fully-committed Chairman to make the fight for press freedom his only priority. If Mr Guía thinks otherwise, then he should leave CNP’s Vice-President Nikary Gonzalez in charge.

We all respect Tinedo Guía enormously, and expect him to make the right decision.