Venezuela’s Media Controversy

Studying numerous revolutionary movements of the past, namely Jamaica, Grenada, Cuba, Chile, Hungary, Algeria, Czechoslovakia, Nicaragua and Spain, one can conclude a few generalisations about the Oligarchs approaches to challenges to capitalist-imperialist hegemony. Firstly, they will seize on a pretext to intervene (often with force, either full-scale intervention, covert surgical operations or via proxies) to reverse the revolution. Secondly, they will often engineer such pretexts (through agent-provocateurs, economic sabatoge, embargoes, funding opposition groups, disinformation). Thirdly, they will even fabricate pretexts, essentially through propaganda in the media – this tactic is often for domestic consumption with the idea of convincing the citizens of the imperialist state that any intervention or sanctions by the imperialist state towards the ‘rogue’ state are justified, thus reducing domestic solidarity with the rogue state in question, or to demonise those domestic citizens who would dare question the imperialist states motives or demonstrate solidarity with the rogue state.

It is with the above generalisations that one must approach the controversy of the Venezuelan Governments decision not to renew the public broadcasting license of the Radio Caracas Television (RCTV) on May 27th, 2007. This act has been largely portrayed in the international media and by Washington D.C. as an attempt by Chavez to stifle free speech and establish a totalitarian state in Venezuela.

It is also important here to note that Venezuela and Chavez’s Bolivarian Revo with the outspoken aim of ‘building socialism for the 21st Century’ is challenging US hegemony in Latin America (and by extension the Caribbean and the world) both on the ideological plane and the economic plane. Venezuela poses the threat of a good example to US hegemony, and more importantly, it actually has the resources (thanks primarily to its natural oil and gas reserves) to make significant domestic and international revolutionary situations.

So, what are the facts behind the non-renewal of RCTVs broadcast license?

1) Most nations have legisaltion requiring televesion and radio companies to apply for a license to broadcast, as the broadcast frequncies are generally fewer than the number of companies wishing to broadcast on them (along with police, military and other uses of these frequencies). Generally a license is granted for a certain period of time; the US has a limit of eight years while in Venezuela the limit is for twenty years. Renewals are granted on the basis of the companies fulfilling their obligations under the legislation, which includes not engaging in criminal or treasoness activities.

2) In April 2002, during the events leading up to the coup of the 11th, during the coup itself, and the restoration of Chavez to the Presidency RCTV took an active role in aiding and abetting the coup itself. How?

a) The immediate events leading up to the coup were a march by anti-Chavez demonstrators that was supposed to go to the HQ of the state-owned petroleum company PDVSA. This march was approved by the state; however on the day of the march itself the demonstrators leaders unilaterally (without police notification) redircted the march towards the Presidential Palace where the police had approved for a pro-Chavez demonstration. The police and the organisers of the pro-Chavez demo were concerned that this would lead to violent confrontations between the two demos, but they were unable to prevent the ‘collision’ in time. Twenty people died and more than a hundred were injured in the ensuing clashes.

b) The coup plotters took advantage of the confusion in the streets outside the Presidential Palace to execute their coup, arresting and kidnapping Chavez and unleashing those security forces loyal to the coup on the pro-Chavez demonstrators.

c) RCTV at this time displayed footage of at least four gunmen amongst the pro-Chavez demonstrators firing from an overpass, as other demonstrators on the overpass took cover behind the gunmen and a building. RCTV then showed pictures of injured and bloodied protestors at another location and essentially reported that these injuries were caused by the previously shown gunmen, claiming that the gunmen were firing on unarmed protestors. Amatuer footage from the site later showed that the gunmen were actually firing at an armour police vehicle in a deserted street that had been firing at the pro-Chavez demo, that the gunmen were firing in self-defence and not at unarmed protestors.

d) RCTV later broadcast that Chavez had resigned as President, when there is no evidence that he actually ever did so; the evidence that does exist is that Chavez did enter into negotiations concerning resignation in light of the coup, but these negotiations were abruptly ended and Chavez placed under military guard and sent to a military base off the coast.

e) RCTV in its broadcasts hailed the coup as a ‘victory for democracy’ and conducted interviews with the coup leaders. Several coup leaders even singled out RCTV in their thanks for RCTVs assistance with the coup.

f) Despite RCTVs enthusiastic reporting of the ‘victory for democracy’ in the form of a coup d’etat, it completely failed to broadcast anything whatsoever concerning the mass mutinies and popular revolts that launched a resistance to the coup, and by April 13th had succeeded in defeating the coup. RCTV instead chose to instead broadcast a rerun loop of the Looney Tunes (in spanish of course).

g) Later in 2002 RCTV broadcast an explicit appeal to topple Chavex during an oligarch-led strike/lock-out.

3) The legislation relevant to media broadcasting, Law of Social Responsibility for Radio and Television, gauruntees freedom of expression without censorship while also prohibiting transmission of messages promoting, apologising or inciting disobedience to the law, including inciting the overthrow of a democratically elected President and his government. [Chavez has been elected several times with landslide victories in internationally monitored elections that have been declared ‘free and fair’ by these monitors.]

4) The legislation, enacted in 1987, long before Chavez became President, allows the decision to renew broadcast licensing to be wholly the decision of the President. While I personally feel that this needs to be addressed to allow for a greater ‘due process’ to cite the action of the President to not renew the license as an example of Chavez’s authoritarianism is folly.

5) RCTV was not alone in its actions around the coup, but the other media have since come to the conclusion that broadcasting calls for coups is not acceptable, and have reduced their opposition to Chavez to polemical debates and negative and selective reporting; RCTV has not altered its openly hostile and treasoness line towards the democratically elected government. Only RCTV has thus lost its broadcast rights, while the others had theirs renewed. One other station has however broadcast video footage of an attempted assasination of the late Pope John Paul II, with a image of Chavez on the screen along with a song essentially saying ‘who will have the courage to do what needs done…’ an action that the Government is questioning as an illegal incitement for assasination.

Looking at the facts of the controversy over RCTV the question that came to my mind is why didn’t Chavez move against RCTV and the other stations that openly supported, aided and abetted the coup d’etat of 2002 right after his return to power? Surely if CNN (and CNN Espanol by the way was complicit in the 2002 coup as well) or ABC, CBS, NBC or the BBC had acted similarly in the US, calling for a coup, broadcasting false images, inciting violence and assasinations, supporting putchists, I don’t think anyone would be suprised that the democratically elected government once it defeated the coup would have moved justifiably against these media companies. If anything the time duration between the 2002 coup and the decision not to renew the license indicate a profound patience and willingness by the Chavez government to accomadate dissent and reach an understanding with the opposition forces (as it largely has done with the other media centers).

Ironically, during the coup RCTV enthusiastically reported and supported the decision of the coup leaders to close the one station that while not broadcasting pro-Chavez reports did question the legitimacy of the coup and the vailidity of the other stations broadcasts.

Hope the above helps clear up some of the facts regarding this case; and I will write more on the unfolding revolutionary and counter-revolutionary events in Latin America very soon.


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