Spanish newspaper sorry for "false photo" of Venezuela's Chavez

Thu Jan 24, 2013 10:34pm EST
 
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By Fiona Ortiz and Daniel Wallis

MADRID/CARACAS (Reuters) - Spain's influential El Pais newspaper apologized on Thursday for splashing a "false photo" of Venezuela's cancer-stricken leader Hugo Chavez on its front page, prompting a furious response from the government in Caracas, which vowed to take legal action.

Within minutes of posting the image online as a global exclusive, El Pais said it had discovered from social media that the photo was not of Chavez. It removed it from its website and withdrew its print edition.

Venezuela's government said the publication of the photo - which showed the head of a man lying down with a breathing tube in his mouth - was "grotesque," while Argentinian President Cristina Fernandez, a close ally of Chavez, called it vile.

"El Pais apologizes to its readers for the damage caused. The newspaper has opened an investigation to determine the circumstances of what happened and the errors that were committed in the verification of the photo," the paper said.

Chavez, 58, is fighting to recover in Cuba after undergoing his fourth cancer operation in just 18 months. He has not spoken or appeared in public for six weeks, fuelling speculation about how serious his condition is.

El Pais, one of the world's biggest Spanish-language publications and an institution both in Spain and in Latin America, said it received the grainy image from the agency Gtres Online, which it said represents 60 other agencies in Spain.

In a statement, El Pais said the newspaper was told it had been taken seven days earlier by a Cuban nurse who was part of Chavez's medical team, and was then sent to the nurse's sister, who lives in Spain.

"The agency has acknowledged it was deceived by those who provided the material and will take legal action," El Pais said.   Continued...

 
A woman poses with a copy of the January 24 first edition of Spanish newspaper El Pais in a cafe in central Madrid January 24, 2013. REUTERS/Andrea Comas