Friday, May 25, 2007

A Tale of the Romanticism of RCTV and the Demonisation of Chavez

I could write another post on how Melanie Phillips is intent on pulling apart the very things that she and others claim the terrorists wish to destroy (terrorist sympathies perhaps?? Well, at least they would be if they weren't a different colour). But another post on the sheer moral depravity of the right's favourite spokesperson would seem a little obsessive. For now Mel, you can continue to rave like a loon with your inaccurate polemics, while the rest of us focus on the real world.

There has been much written about Chavez's decision not to renew RCTV's contract. As per usual, the right-wing press have come out claiming that this is another example of Chavez's dictatorial tendencies. Fox News reported it in typical Fox News terms:

CARACAS, Venezuela — The countdown has begun for Venezuela's oldest private television station. At midnight Sunday, Radio Caracas Television — the most widely watched channel — will be forced off the air after President Hugo Chavez's government decided not to renew its license.

Talk show host Miguel Angel Rodriguez, whose program is a daily rant against Chavez, ended his Friday segment by blowing a kiss to the camera and saying defiantly: "There is no goodbye. It's 'see you later."'

The opposition plans street protests over the weekend to demand that RCTV be allowed to keep transmitting, while Chavez supporters are expected to hold their own demonstrations. The authorities tightened security Friday in Caracas, putting hundreds of police and National Guard troops along major avenues.

Interesting how they romanticise the plight of RCTV. They even quote a protester as saying:

"People have to realize that we have a totalitarian president," said Maria Alecia Klemprer, a 25-year-old university student wearing a T-shirt reading: "Freedom of Expression S.O.S."

Bet that had the Fox News executives creaming in their pants over that one. In a very small paragraph, Fox News touches on the crux of the issue:

Chavez accuses RCTV and other opposition-aligned private media of supporting a failed 2002 coup against him. The channel has been accused of violating broadcast laws and showing programs with violence and sexual content that are morally degrading.

Chavez accuses? Is that the same Chavez that you characterised as 'totalitarian' earlier in your piece? Mmm, guess that might undermine his point a little. The truth is this is no wild accusation, this is fact and it is the sole reason why RCTV has lost its license. As one letter in today's Guardian pointed out:

The RCTV station did not just back an illegal military coup against President Chávez in 2002, but was active in orchestrating it (Chávez silences critical TV station, May 23). RCTV ran adverts encouraging people to take to the streets and to overthrow the elected president; spread lies that pro-Chávez supporters were shooting on unarmed civilians, which were used by some in the military to justify the coup; and read out a fake resignation letter from President Chávez.

Furthermore, Patrick McElwee, a policy analyst with Just Foreign Policy, writes in ZNet:

RCTV encouraged viewers to attend a rally that was part of the coup strategy, invited coup leaders to address the country on their channel, and reported the false information that the president had resigned. After Pedro Carmona declared himself president and dissolved the National Assembly, Supreme Court, and other democratic institutions, the head of RCTV Marcel Granier met with him in the Presidential Palace. The following day, when mass protests and loyal army units brought back President Chávez, RCTV and other stations blacked out the news, showing movies and cartoons instead.

Imagine if this were the case in the UK or the US. Do you really think that Bu$hie would allow the New York times to exist if it was the prime sponsor of a military coup? It would be shut down at the earliest opportunity. RCTV supported the use of violence to overthrow a democratically elected government, it's little surprise that the license was revoked.

But what of the voices of the opposition in Venezuela? Is this really the sign of the 'totalitarian' that Fox News loves to characterise? Not according to McElwee:

If RCTV were the only major source of opposition to the government, the loss of its voice would be troubling. It would also be disturbing if the RCTV case forced others to tone down legitimate opposition. But Greg Wilpert, a sociologist living in Venezuela, declares, "It is the height of absurdity to say that there's a lack of freedom of press in Venezuela."

Of the top four private TV stations, three air mostly entertainment and one, Globovisión, is a 24-hours news channel. On Globovisión, Wilpert says, "the opposition is very present. They pretty much dominate it. And in the others, they certainly are very present in the news segments."

Regarding the print media, Wilpert told me, "There are three main newspapers. Of those three, two are definitely very opposition. The other one is pretty neutral. I would say, [the opposition] certainly dominates the print media by far. There's no doubt about that."

"I think some of the TV stations have slightly moderated [their opposition to the government] not because of intimidation, but because they were losing audience share. Over half of the population is supportive of Chávez . They've reduced the number of anti-Chávez programs that they used to have. But those that continue to exist are just as anti-Chávez as they were before."

This won't stop the mainstream media from casting Chavez as the devil, certainly in the US where the corporate establishment are scared to death of his populist rhetoric. The truth is, this is a move that would have been taken by just about any democratic world leader on the international stage against such a media organisation. A media organisation that supports a coup and refuses to cover the mass protests that bring him back to power. As McElwee himself says 'it is frankly amazing that this company has been allowed to broadcast for 5 years after the coup, and that the Chávez government waited until its license expired to end its use of the public airwaves.' Surely if he had any totalitarian tendencies, he would have shut down the station at the earliest opportunity. Instead, he waited until the license was up for renewal and then took a perfectly legitimate decision under the circumstances. The predicted totalitarianism in Venezuela seems a long way off yet.