Venezuela and the Media: Fact and Fiction

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To read and view the U.S. news media, there is an episode
of grand tyranny unfolding, one repugnant to all who
cherish democratic freedoms. The Venezuelan government
under “strongman” Hugo Chavez refused to renew
the 20-year broadcast license for RCTV, because that
medium had the temerity to be critical of his regime. It is
a familiar story.
And in this case it is wrong.
Regrettably, the US media coverage of Venezuela’s RCTV
controversy says more about the deficiencies of our own
news media that it does about Venezuela. It demonstrates
again, as with the invasion of Iraq, how our news media
are far too willing to carry water for Washington than to
ascertain and report the truth of the matter.
Here are some of the facts and some of the context that
the media have omitted or buried:
All nations license radio and TV stations because the airwaves
can only accommodate a small number of broadcasters,
far fewer than the number who would like to have the
privilege to broadcast. In democratic nations the license is
given for a specific term, subject to renewal. In the United
States it is eight years; in Venezuela it is 20 years.
Venezuela is a constitutional republic. Chavez has
won landslide victories that would be the envy of almost
any elected leader in the world, in internationally monitored
elections.
The vast majority of Venezuela’s media are not only in
private hands, they are constitutionally protected, uncensored,
and dominated by the opposition. RCTV’s owners
can expand their cable and satellite programming, or take
their capital and launch a print empire forthwith. Aggressive
unqualified political dissent is alive and well in the
Venezuelan mainstream media, in a manner few other
democratic nations have ever known, including our own.
The media here report that President Chavez “accuses
RCTV of having supported a coup” against him. This is a
common means of distorting the news: a fact is reported as
accusation, and then attributed to a source that the press
has done everything to discredit. In fact, RCTV – along
with other broadcast news outlets – played such a leading
role in the April 2002 military coup against Venezuela’s
democratically elected government, that it is often
described as “the world’s first media coup.”
In the prelude to the coup, RCTV helped mobilize people
to the streets against the government, and used false
reporting to justify the coup. One of their most infamous
and effective falsifications was to mix footage of pro-
Chavez people firing pistols from an overpass in Caracas
with gory scenes of demonstrators being shot and killed.
This created the impression that the pro-Chavez gunmen
actually shot these people, when in fact the victims were
nowhere near them. These falsified but horrifying images
were repeated incessantly, and served as a major justification
for the coup.
RCTV then banned any pro-government reporting during
the coup. When Chavez returned to office, this too was
blacked out of the news. Later the same year, RCTV once
again made all-day-long appeals to Venezuelans to help
topple the government during a crippling national oil
strike.
If RCTV were broadcasting in the United States, its
license would have been revoked years ago. In fact its
owners would likely have been tried for criminal offenses,
including treason.
RCTV’s broadcast frequency has been turned over to a
new national public access channel that promises to provide
programming from thousands of independent producers.
It is an effort to let millions of Venezuelans who
have never had a viable chance to participate in the media
do so, without government censorship.
The Bush Administration opposes the Chavez government
for reasons that have nothing to do with democracy,
or else there would be a long list of governments for us to
subvert or overthrow before it would get close to targeting
Venezuela. Regrettably, our press coverage has done little
to shed light on that subject.
Our news media should learn the lesson of Iraq and
regard our own government’s claims with the same skepticism
they properly apply to foreign leaders. Then
Americans might begin to get a more accurate picture of
the world, and be able to effectively participate in our
foreign policy.

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