FREE SPEECH IN VENEZUELA

The case of RCTV and the fictional democratization of communication

from El Libertario, Caracas


On May 27, Radio Caracas Televisión (RCTV), a pillar of Venezuela's media establishment, went off the air when its license expired, sparking a wave of angry street protests in Caracas both for and against the closure of the station. Supporters of the decision not to renew the license say RCTV had betrayed the public trust, and particularly point to its unabashed support of the abortive April 2002 coup d'etat against populist President Hugo Chávez. Others have raised concerns about freedom of speech, and point to a narrowing of media voices in Venezuela. While this critique has mostly come from conservatives, the Caracas anarchist journal El Libertario, published since 1995, also sees an ominous trend in the RCTV shut-down. This statement of their position was translated by WW4 REPORT.

The Collective of El Libertario, Venezuelan anarchist newspaper, makes public its reasoned position in the debate generated by the case of RCTV—in which the current government imposes a solution to exchange the vulgarity of the private capitalist television oligopoly for what could be the abomination of monopoly by a bureaucratic and authoritarian state.

For the past two decades, through our publications, the Venezuelan anarchists have denounced and opposed the depravity and bias of the private media corporations such as RCTV. This company has guaranteed its economic success through sleazy oligopolistic practices, opportunistic links with the current state power and the emission of "garbage-content"—with the excuse of "giving the audience what they want." However, the evils that this company indeed represented are now an excuse for the imposition of a solution that means a repetition and multiplication of the same vices. In the Venezuela of 2007, the baseness of a part of the private oligopoly is to be corrected by the abomination of a state monopoly, increasing the unprecedented advantages for the government and justifying the production of "garbage-content" with the condition of it being "rojo-rojito" [or totally "red," a reference to the color of the ruling V Republic Movement]. In concrete terms: we do not have Miguel Angel Rodríguez [host of RCTV's anti-Chavez morning talk show "La Entrevista" (The Interview)] anymore but we will have the acclaimed Mario Silva [host of a popular pro-Chavez program, "La Hojilla" (The Razor), on state network VTV], the presenter of the journalistic paradigm of the V Republic.

The history of Venezuelan television teaches that the private owners of the media have never recognized the right to freedom expression, particularly when this right affects their profits and their privileged political and cultural position. However, neither has the State—before or after 1999 [when Chavez came to power]—behaved differently on this issue, considering television only a medium for the exercise and defense of its power interests. Therefore, little space has been constructed for free diffusion and discussion of ideas on TV—because those who have the power in this field have always called the shots.

And if that wasn't enough, in the struggle unleashed after the coming of Chávez to the presidency for the control of the state and access to the oil rent, the governmental and oppositionist factions have competed equally to opportunistically and tendentiously use the mass media. It has been converted in a battlefield scenario, where recognition of the right to freedom of expression means to give space to the enemy. In this perverse logic of polarization, those of us who dissent and criticize the contenders for power have been equally detested and excluded by both sides.

However, despite all the nuances that are applicable to the Venezuelan case, several indications lead us to believe that the main risk faced by the struggle to guarantee what little can be preserved of freedom of expression today comes from the state—with its clear intention of creating a communication model tailor-made for a so-called "socialism" that is nothing more than the new face of capitalistic domination in Venezuela. We have no reason to be so naïve as to believe the vociferating personalities like [general manager Marcel] Granier of RCTV or [magnate Alberto] Ravell of Globovisión (not to mention the now-silent Armas Camero of Televén or [Gustavo] Cisneros of Venevisión). [Televén and Venevisión are now assuming a pro-Chavez position, and have not protested the RCTV closure.] But the measures taken against those figures will promptly be directed against the rest of the dissidence in the country, including within the government ranks.

We have no doubt about the fact of that we suffer from a regime that is so opposed to any kind of critique or disagreement that it is proclaimed a virtue to reprimand any such manifestation, even from among their adepts. They immediately discredit the legitimacy of any protest against the abuses of power and official incompetence, attributing them to so-called criminal conspiracies (the "CIA," the "Colombian paramilitary groups," the "golpista right," etc.) that would be behind any possible kind of dissidence in Venezuela. According to this paranoiac-Stalinist approach, the mere demand for rights is unquestionable proof of the evil conspiracies that threaten the "revolutionary process," and the justification to repress to those who make the demand. Indeed, only the authoritarian dogmatism that characterizes the Venezuelan government could justify the aggression to these rights in the name of an absurd "socialism" that is proud to fuck over Granier but comes to an agreement with Cisneros, cedes property rights to the oil trans-nationals and sponsors a new "boli-bourgeoisie" [for Bolivarian bourgeoisie, a reference to the official state ideology].

Faced with this situation, we the Venezuelan anarchists could not do other than put ourselves firmly in the defense of the now-mutilated right to free expression, as of all the other social and political rights which are indispensable for the mere existence and ascendance of autonomous grassroots social movements... [W]e denounce the use of the current situation of confrontation to advance the criminalization of the dissident and the structuring of a juridical order fitting of a police state. Fort instance, the left authoritarian state is supporting measures (the outlawing of road blockades and the burning of tires, for example) that will shortly be used against popular sectors that raise demand. We also denounce the escalating use of armed gangs to confront the protesters in the streets, a new kind of paramilitarism in which the Venezuelan state is copying the practice of its commercial partners: [Colombian President] Alvaro Uribe and the North American multinationals. Finally, we will point out the clear relation between the Venezuelan government and sectors of the globalized economy, such as Gustavo Cisneros—an alliance that seeks to ensure the situation of precarious employment, subordination and servility of the oppressed in our country.

Here are some facts and figures about the "democratization of the radio-electric spectrum" (that often are not to mentioned by the forces of either "Bolivarian socialism" or the "democratic opposition"):

* In 1999, the presence of the Venezuelan state in the radio-electric spectrum was demonstrated only through one TV channel (VTV) and two frequencies of the National Radio. Today, the state has direct control over six television stations (VTV, TVES; Vive TV, Telesur, Avila TV and ANTV), plus two radio networks (Naciónal and YVKE Mundial) with eight radio stations. We must add to this the recently acquired control over CANTV, the biggest provider of telecommunications support in the country.

* In the total budget of the Venezuelan state for the year 2007, 165.3 thousand millions bolivars (more than $77 million) is slated for the communications field.

* [B]etween February 1999 and December 2006, the government imposed 1,339 obligatory transmissions to non-official radio and TV stations for a total of 810 hours, 56 minutes and 42 seconds. This data does not include the transmission of "Alo Presidente" [Chavez's talk show].

* The movement to establish communitarian radio and TV stations that 10 years ago represented positive steps toward a model of autonomous alternative communication, has been subjugated by the power of the state through economic control. The majority of the 167 radio stations and 28 TV stations that today operate with the denomination of "communitarian" depend upon government subsidies (according to the National Assembly, in 2006 they received 5.7 thousand millions bolivars, approx. $2.6 million dollars), and for that reason they tend to become official mouthpieces and to repeat the same communicational vices they say they reject.

* According to the official mouthpiece [Vice Foreign Minister] Mari Pili Hernández, the hypothetic volume of businesses of RCTV for the year 2007 would be of 420 thousand millions bolivars (more than $195 million). The promise of such a candy, together with the fear of confronting Chavista revanchism can explain what has happened to the rest of the private TV stations (with the exception of Globovisión, a fierce oppositionist). For example, according to a report by EU observers about the distribution of TV airtime during the last electoral presidential campaign, Venevisión gave 84% to the official candidate and 16% to the opposition, while at Televen the respective numbers were 68% and 32%; La Tele, channel 12, fired the journalist Marietta Santana for publicly criticizing the close of RCTV, and the journalist Ana María Hernández resigned after she was prohibited of denouncing irregularities at the state oil corporation PDVSA. Meanwhile the music channel Puma TV was bought in 2004 by Wilmer Ruperti, a notorious "boli-bourgeois" who wants to turn it into a news channel (the announced Canal I).

* During more than 30 years, RCTV (of the corporate group 1BC or Phelps) and Venevisión (of the Cisneros group) formed the duopoly that imposed their bad habits to the country's television. This agreement had a economic rather than political character, and on various occasions they confronted each other as well as the current government. This can't be compared with the economic and political monopoly in the hands of soldiers and selfish interests that we face today. After the Presidential Referendum of 2004, the pact was broken when the Cisneros group decided—for the good health of their businesses—that it was best to make peace with the government, a pact that was sanctified in a meeting held in the main barracks of Caracas between Chávez and Gustavo Cisneros with Jimmy Carter as the mediator. And from that moment on begins a honeymoon between "twenty-first century socialism" and this corporate gang, in which the engagement ring was the renewal of the Venevisión license for five more years—that began counting the same day that the RCTV signal ended. Of course, to make any Chavista uncomfortable, it is sufficient to remind them that it's been a short time since their faction fight with Venevisión and Cisneros ended, or to ask them for the qualitative differences between these enterprises that justify the closure of one and the prizing of the other one.

* The systematic application of a repressive policy against dissenting expressions does not end with the issue of the broadcast licenses for TV signals. It is also seen in the blackmail through which SENIAT [the Finance Ministry] collection fines for real or supposed fiscal irregularities; the criminalization of criticism by means of the numerous judgments against journalists and media not agreeable to government; and the arbitrary application of the Law of Social Accountability of Radio and Television by CONATEL [Telecommunications Ministry] as a weapon against any journalist, program or station to make them to change their position.

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RESOURCES:

El Libertario
http://www.nodo50.org/ellibertario

Controversy surrounding this piece on New York Indymedia
http://www.nyc.indymedia.org/en/2007/06/87161.shtml

From our weblog:

Exxon quits Venezuela
WW4 REPORT, June 27, 2007
http://ww4report.com/node/4136

Basque regional government stands up for Hugo Chávez
WW4 REPORT, June 23, 2007
http://ww4report.com/node/4116

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Reprinted and translated by WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, July 1, 2007
Reprinting permissible with attribution