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Investigative journalism work by Ohio University Fulbright Scholar and journalism graduate student will be featured on FRONTLINE

Patricia Marcano Meza, an Ohio University Fulbright Scholar who is pursuing a master’s degree in journalism at the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism, is both excited and nervous for the national premiere of a new documentary for FRONTLINE on PBS called "A Dangerous Assignment: Uncovering Corruption in Maduro’s Venezuela." It airs on Tuesday, May 14, at 10 p.m. on WOUB HD. The investigative reporter from Venezuela is featured in the documentary as one of the reporters who covered government corruption for the Venezuelan independent news outlet

“For us, because we are a small independent media in Venezuela, the opportunity to show this documentary in America is great. We are glad and honored. In Venezuela, there is a lot of censorship and persecution, so this is an important window to show the reality and to reach more people. The people can see what the situation is in our country and how we are doing journalism in a difficult environment,” said Marcano Meza. “But I am also concerned about the consequences of this. Our four editors-in-chief had to go into exile because they were sued by Alex Saab and threatened by the Maduro government. We don't want anything to happen to our team in Caracas. The Maduro government's response to the announcement of the documentary was a new attack on our work; through the Attorney General they are trying to involve us in a corruption case that we revealed last year.”

President Nicolas Maduro is South America’s longest ruling authoritarian leader and has held power since 2013. The FRONTLINE episode examines the investigation of a food program called CLAP that was created by Maduro’s government in 2016 when Venezuela was in economic freefall and consumed by hunger. The CLAP program was a domestic aid initiative that was billed as providing high-quality, essential food items to Venezuelans impacted by the nation’s economic crisis — some of whom were at risk of starvation. But the CLAP program was not all that the government claimed it to be.

“We are so excited that this documentary will introduce Patricia’s work to an even wider audience in the U.S. She is a highly decorated journalist, one of Venezuela’s best, and a Pulitzer Prize finalist,” said E.W. Scripps School of Journalism Associate Director for Graduate Studies Aimee Edmondson. “She’s incredibly brave and talented.”

The documentary features groundbreaking reporting from investigative journalist Roberto Deniz and his colleagues, including Marcano Meza. They revealed that the government was purchasing low-quality products for the CLAP program. In fact, a chemical analysis conducted by the Institute of Food Science and Technology at Universidad Central de Venezuela at the request of showed some of the powdered milk offered in the CLAP boxes was so deficient in calcium and high in sodium that a researcher noted it couldn’t be classified as milk at all.

The team at uncovered that the CLAP initiative itself was enriching a close associate of Maduro’s — Alex Saab, the biggest contractor for the food program. The journalists’ reporting ended up helping expose a vast corruption scandal that had benefited Maduro and other officials, spanning from Venezuela to Europe to the U.S. — and it ultimately made the journalists targets of the Maduro government. Facing threats, harassment and possible jail time, Deniz and some of his colleagues made the difficult decision to flee Venezuela. As a result of Deniz’s reporting, he has a warrant out for his arrest, his family’s home has been raided, and he has been sued for criminal defamation by Saab.

“I appear in the FRONTLINE episode talking about an investigation we did on the quality of food delivered by the government through the subsidized food program, and this story is one of several others involving corruption that we tell in the documentary, all linked to Alex Saab,” said Marcano Meza. “We have covered stories about Alex Saab since 2016, in particular my colleague, Roberto Deniz, who has led this investigation, but as a team at it has marked us.”

In her master’s degree program, Marcano Meza is focusing on the study of data journalism and plans to take what she learns at Ohio University back to Venezuela to train fellow journalists so they can all improve the investigative work they are doing.

“I would like to learn a lot here and then go back to Venezuela to teach and train my colleagues to use data journalism and do deeper and better investigative work.”

"A Dangerous Assignment: Uncovering Corruption in Maduro’s Venezuela" premieres on Tuesday, May 14, at 10 p.m. on WOUB PBS and on YouTube, and at 7 p.m. on, in the PBS App, and will also be available on the PBS Documentaries Prime Video Channel. 

May 13, 2024
Cheri Russo