Spain's El Pais 'sorry' over fake Chavez hospital pic
MADRID, Jan 24: Spain´s leading newspaper El Pais apologized Thursday after publishing a front-page photograph supposedly of ailing Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in his hospital bed, and then discovering the patient was actually someone else.
The dramatic photograph, which claimed to show Chavez lying in a Cuban hospital after his cancer operation with tubes emerging from his mouth, sparked a furious reaction from Venezuela.
"It is as grotesque as it is false," Venezuelan Information Minister Ernesto Villegas said in a comment on his official Twitter account. The photograph was actually taken from a video of an operation posted on YouTube, he said.
El Pais, Spain´s best selling newspaper and one of the most influential in the Spanish-speaking world, said the photograph remained on its online site for about half an hour before being withdrawn when the error was discovered.
The centre-left newspaper also halted distribution of Thursday´s paper edition from newsstands, though some copies were sold.
"El Pais apologises to its readers for the harm caused. The newspaper has opened an investigation to determine the circumstances of what happened and the errors that may have been committed in verifying the photograph."
Picture taken on January 24, 2013 in Madrid of the front page of the Spanish newpaper "El Pais" edition of January 23, 2013 publishing a photograph supposedly of ailing Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in his hospital bed. (AFP)
El Pais said it received the photo from the Gtres Online news agency, which claimed the image was of the Venezuelan leader.
It stressed that the caption on the photograph had emphasised that El Pais was unable to independently verify the circumstances, the place and date of the photograph.
El Pais said print editions of the newspaper could be unavailable to readers because of the interruption to distribution.
Senior editors at El Pais declined to add anything to the statement but a source inside the paper said there was "consternation" in the newsroom.
The Venezuelan information minister provided a link to a YouTube video, which he said was the source of the image: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DB4bIH0GsYU.
The video has an upload date of August 6, 2008 and is described as showing the intubation of a patient with acromegaly, an excess of growth hormone. The video includes the same image as appeared in El Pais.
El Pais´ conservative rival El Mundo gloated over its competitor´s mistake. The paper´s director Pedro J. Ramirez boasted on Twitter that his paper had refused to buy the picture when it was offered for 30,000 euros ($40,000), citing his editors´ reluctance to show the picture of the Venezuelan leader in such a state.
Chavez, who has been convalescing in Cuba since his fourth round of cancer surgery, has not been seen in public since December 10 and official information about his health has been sketchy.
The Venezuelan leader was too sick to attend his scheduled inauguration on January 10, but in recent days officials have said he has been making encouraging progress.