Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Venezuela on Brink of Civil War

That's the claim in the latest issue of the New Statesman. In an entirely one-sided article, Alice O'Keeffe claims that the very fabric of Venezuealan society is falling apart at the seams. In one paragraph, O'Keefe examines the 'typical symptoms' of a country heading towards a civil war:

William Ury, a conflict resolution expert at Harvard, identifies three typical symptoms of a country on the brink of civil war. The first is that the population begins to arm itself; the second is that each side begins to dehumanise and impute evil intentions to the other; and the third is the politicisation of the media. Contemporary Venezuela has each of these conditions in abundance. Ury suggests that the key to defusing the threat is to strengthen the "third side": those organisations or people who empathise with both sides of the conflict and will encourage others to resolve their differences non-violently.

The author leaves the reader in no doubt about her views when she 'examines' the revocation of RCTV's licence. In two passages she gives the game away entirely:

the recently closed anti-Chávez television station Radio Caracas Televisión (RCTV)


the government shut down RCTV

As most informed people are only too aware, RCTV was not shut down. In actual fact, it's licence to broadcast as a terrestrial channel was revoked. It can, however, continue to broadcast via satellite and cable. To claim that this is equivalent to 'shutting it down' is at best disingenuous and at worst inflammatory. This lie has been spread ad nauseum via the mainstream media in a blatant attempt to destabilise a country that has dared to take the path dictated to by the West. That a supposedly left-wing publication can perpetuate such a lie is a truly worrying sign of how far some on the left have veered to the right.

Furthermore, O'Keefe seems willing to overlook the role RCTV played in the 2002 coup. She writes:

The charges against it were of anti-government bias, in particular its refusal to air news of the pro-Chávez protests that brought him back to power after the 2002 coup.

This seems to rather downplay the role that RCTV played in the coup. It was RCTV who showed footage that claimed that Chavez supporters were firing on civilians during the US backed coup. The reality was that footage was manipulated by RCTV to make it look like they were firing on unarmed protesters. RCTV's role in the coup was so significant, the news director of the time had to resign when RCTV and other networks decided to censor the civil uprising aimed at restoring democratically elected Chavez after the coup d'etat. RCTV's role in proceedings isn't even mentioned in the article.

What is even more intriguing is O'Keefe's defence of RCTV. Early in the article, she claims that:

....RCTV was predominantly an entertainment channel, and showed some of the nation's favourite soap operas, or "novelas".

You would deduce from this that RCTV's news coverage was pretty minor compared to its 'entertainment' output. However, O'Keefe then goes on to quote a student who was opposed to the shut down:

"When they closed RCTV, we really got desperate, and furious about the lack of freedom of expression and diversity of thought," she said. "We realised we could not let it carry on. It is not like the president says - I'm not from the elite; my family doesn't even own a house. I just can't see this happen to my country."

How can the revocation of a licence for a network whose main output is 'soap operas' possibly have an impact on 'diversity of thought'? The two things don't add up. Either it is an entertainment channel providing harmless 'novelas', or it is a vital voice of diversity. If O'Keefe is so willing to dismiss RCTV as an entertainment channel (and so question why Chavez took the action he took), why are student protesters claiming it was a source of diversity? Perhaps because this is nothing more than a put-up job to appease the establishment. After all, she did title the piece:

Chávez: From hero to tyrant.

For sometime I have toyed with the idea of a subscription to the New Statesman, mainly due to the odd article by Pilger or Chomsky. On the basis of this evidence, I think I will give it a miss.