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28 Jun 2013 14:08
Hugo Chávez, 1999. AFP
The decision "was unanimous" to grant the award "with extraordinary mention to the comandante president Hugo Chávez," said the head of the awards jury, Milagros Perez.
"The history and practice of journalism can only be divided in two moments – before and after comandante Chávez," Perez said.
A journalists' association cried foul, saying Chávez had made a habit of closing down media outlets.
President Nicolas Maduro, who succeeded Chávez, gave the award to Maria Gabriela Chávez, one of the late president's daughters, who cried when shown a video montage of her father.
Chávez – who succumbed to cancer on March 5 at the age of 58 – was omnipresent in Venezuelan life since he first took office in 1999.
Chávez was constantly on TV, either talking to supporters or giving speeches, and he hosted a live radio call-in show, called "Alo Presidente."
Chávez also embraced Twitter with a passion, and had more followers than any other Latin American president.
'Folksy, blunt style'
The award was delivered "with the conviction that the commander deserves this prize, and ... that the Venezuelan people, I'm certain, absolutely support this acknowledgement," said Maduro at the award ceremony.
According to the jury, Chávez's folksy, blunt style and his broadcast presentations "revolutionised" communications "not only in Venezuela, but at an international level."
Members of privately-owned media howled in protest over the award.
Reporters represented by the National College of Journalists blasted Chávez for being "responsible for the closure of innumerable news media outlets during his time in government, leaving scores of colleagues out of work."
More than once Chávez "publicly ridiculed" reporters when they asked him "uncomfortable questions," the statement read.
The posthumous award follows the sale in May 2013 of the Globovision TV network, which for years opposed the Chávez regime.
Many staff members quit after the network adopted a more "centrist" political viewpoint.
The country's most important newspaper and magazine publisher, Cadena Capriles, was also sold in the past weeks to unknown, but presumably pro-government, buyers.
The country's broadest circulation daily, Ultimas Noticias, is part of the Capriles chain, which is owned by distant relatives of opposition leader Henrique Capriles.
Inspired by Cuba's Fidel Castro, Chávez adopted the mantle of a socialist firebrand, railing against the "imperialist" United States while befriending controversial leaders in Iran and Syria.
Critics accused the late leader of heading a personality cult and of being a power-hungry despot who failed to curb runaway crime and diversify an economy overly dependent on oil exports. – AFP
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