Media, Government and Universities: And the prize goes to . . .

The department of journalism at the public National University of La Plata (UNLP) has presented a controversial award to Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, spotlighting the close ties between politics and journalism advocated by university authorities who are in sync with the national government. The award sparked a debate on the role of higher education institutions in preparing future journalists.

President Chávez, who has been repeatedly accused of harassing media outlets in Venezuela that are critical of him, received the university’s Rodolfo Walsh award for his role in strengthening freedom of the press in South America. Ironically, this took place just as Argentina has been experiencing the worst confrontation between the national government and the media since its return to democracy, involving the largest media conglomerate in the country.

Rodolfo Walsh was a writer, journalist and political activist who was kidnapped and killed under the military dictatorship that governed Argentina between 1976 and 1983. Intellectuals and journalists who are not identified with the government of President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner described the school’s decision to give Chávez the Rodolfo Walsh distinction —traditionally awarded to prestigious journalists and researchers in the field of social communication since its creation in 1997 as “a provocation”.

The UNLP is one of about 50 publicly-financed institutions in the country and one of the most prestigious. Since its foundation in 1905 it has given the city of La Plata, 60 km away from Buenos Aires, the flavor of a university town. At the moment it has 90,000 students and about 4,500 graduates each year. Its School of Journalism was created in the 1930´s. About 900 students enroll there every year.

Solo para no olvidar una crónica de este evento carnavalesco.

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