The Story of José - A Documentary Through One Person’s Eyes

The complainant, Henry Heller, objected to a radio documentary recounting the experience of a Venezuelan doctor who fled the country. He said it represented a particular political view of a particular class and lacked wider context. It was the personal experience of a particular person whose background is mentioned against the backdrop of the current situation in Venezuela. There was no violation of policy.


You objected to a documentary broadcast on “The Doc Project” on CBC Radio, about a Venezuelan doctor who had fled his country because he feared for his life. You said it was “incredibly one-sided and decontextualized reporting.”

Everyone knows that a social conflict is going on in Venezuela. Your responsibility is to supply the public with the information and background necessary to making a responsible judgement. Instead you deliver blatant propaganda in defense of the privileged classes. This is shameful journalism.

You said the documentary presented the physician as someone who is a professional trying to do his work, but that there is a clear underlying message. You thought the producer was either ignorant or deliberately biased:

… the sub-text of what he says makes it plain that he is a politically conscious member of the opposition to the Maduro government...deliberately or out of ignorance you try to cover this up…it would actually have helped your credibility as journalists if you had clearly specified his political orientation…


The acting Senior Producer of The Doc Project, Jennifer Warren, replied to your concerns. She told you that she did not agree with your assessment that the documentary was propaganda presenting the view of the privileged class. She noted that this is a personal story of a doctor who attempted to help injured protesters demonstrating against the socialist government of Nicolas Maduro.

Our intention with this piece was and remains to shine a light on one man’s experience in Venezuela - a man whose work as a doctor and whose patients’ lives have been greatly affected by the political turmoil in the country.


CBC journalistic policy allows for the presentation of a variety of perspectives over time. It also allows journalists to “provide professional judgment based on facts and expertise.” This documentary was indeed from the point of view of a physician who had run afoul of the government of his country. That is a reasonable journalistic choice. The story told in the particular is consistent with reporting about conditions in the country at large, and with documentation from such human rights groups as Amnesty International. The documentary recounts how José ran afoul of authorities when he accepted foreign donations of basic drugs that were no longer available in his country.


José was doing everything he could to get supplies for his patients, including accepting donations.


I was trying to get some donations from a pharmaceutical company into the hospital for the patients because I was, for me it was really bad to see that some people are struggling with the lack of medicine, so I went there with a box of donations and they didn’t let me in.


It’s hard to understand why a doctor bringing medication to a hospital would be turned away. But José says some people are opposed to it. In every hospital there are employees who are keeping a close eye on doctors. After José tried bringing a box full of donations for his patients, things started to go wrong.


It was a hole in my car …


Someone damaged his car and left a note. “Whoever is found sabotaging our hospital, we will make them disappear.”


I was so confused, I was so afraid, I felt like I had no options. These people are supported by the people who hire you, you know, so you go to police and they don’t do anything because it’s the same government.

Amnesty International had this to say in a 2016 report about conditions in Venezuela:

The government’s refusal to allow international aid efforts to address the humanitarian crisis and provide medicine exacerbated the critical health situation. The poor state of public health services led to an increase in preventable and treatable diseases such as malaria and tuberculosis. NGOs such as the Coalition of Organizations for the Right to Life and Health and professional associations calculated that there was a shortage of 75% of high-cost drugs and 90% of essential drugs.

The documentary also provided further corroboration since those wanting to donate pharmaceuticals must resort of subterfuge to do so.

I recognize that you reject this narrative and point out that opposition to the Maduro regime comes from the “privileged classes”. That may be the case, but it doesn’t negate the fact that the country has an abysmal human rights record, and its population is suffering shortages and hardship. There may be protesters who are violent and protest groups that are supported by outside interests - there is never one cause or reason for social and political turmoil - but that does not negate the documented abuses of Venezuelan citizens.

José talked about a night when he tried to help out protestors. Once again his experience is consistent with reports from Amnesty International, who have eyewitness accounts of abuse of citizens by the National Guard. Amnesty’s country report for Venezuela for 2016-17 begins with this:

The government declared a state of emergency which was renewed four times. Most of those suspected of responsibility for crimes under international law and for human rights violations during the 2014 protests had yet to be brought to justice. Prison overcrowding and violence continued. Survivors of gender-based violence faced significant obstacles in accessing justice. Human rights defenders and journalists frequently faced campaigns to discredit them, as well as attacks and intimidation. Political opponents and critics of the government continued to face imprisonment. There were reports of excessive use of force by the police and security forces.

We can agree that a physician who studied in Canada is likely privileged. It is not so clear your other assumptions are as obvious. You dismissed his history of working with the poor, citing that he is presenting himself as a “disinterested professional lending assistance to those who need it” - that is the fact. He worked to try and organize medical service to underserved parts of the country. While he may have come from a particular socio-economic class, it is an assumption to think that he held a particular set of political views, or was active politically one way or another. There is no reason to doubt his explanation for his opposition to the regime. There is no attempt to present him as anything as what he is, and to explore his experience. It is obvious he opposed the regime. There is no subtext here:

Until the situation got out of hand in Venezuela, José had never been involved in any real political activity, but as the protests grew bigger and more violent, José got more involved.


I joined many protests, about 25-30. I joined as a volunteer medical doctor. I had a back pack, a first aid kit, some medicine, and I used to wear a helmet and gas mask. I gave medical support to the wounded and people intoxicated by tear gas. Among them were seniors, pregnant women, children. Most of them were young people between 18 and 22.

The documentary provided enough details about his views to allow those who were listening to weigh what he had to say. You think that because of his background he is not to be believed and that there is a deliberate political bias at work here. That does not negate the presenting of this person’s experience against the documented abuses and conditions in Venezuela.


Esther Enkin
CBC Ombudsman