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Venezuela: eat the press

By Rodrigo Acuña - posted Thursday, 21 June 2007


Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez's recent battle with Radio Caracas Television (RCTV) has received substantial media coverage around the world.

On June 1, Simon Romero wrote in The New York Times that "on Sunday, the [Chávez] Government closed the dissident station". In The Australian on May 21, Christian Oliver from Reuters presented the general line about developments in Caracas, stating:

During the failed 2002 coup against Mr Chávez, which was led by business and military leaders, opposition channels showed cartoons and films while massive crowds of Mr Chávez's supporters mobilised for a counter-attack.

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Since then, Chávez has accused private television channels of manipulating the news. But that goes both ways: this week, while opposition channel Globovisión showed tens of thousands of protesters swelling the streets, Venezuelan State television showed empty roads and groups of five or 10 protesters walking to the march.

In fact, the Caracas Administration has not closed down RCTV but instead chosen not to renew the station's broadcasting licence, which was up for reassessment this year. According to the Government, RCTV is responsible for over 652 infractions of communications codes, and has refused to pay numerous fines. Of 400 other media outlets whose licences were up for renewal on May 27, only RCTV was rejected.

In most democratic countries, the process of reviewing broadcasting licences is quite normal. The current procedure in Venezuela with RCTV is based on a law established in 1987 - nearly a decade before Chávez came to power. And RCTV and its two radio stations are still able to broadcast through cable and the Internet.

RCTV and other private channels such as Globovisión played a significant role in the April 2002 coup d'état. About 60 people were left dead, hundreds were wounded and the country's democratically elected President was kidnapped.

Harshly criticising a government one dislikes is one thing; and telling lies to rally others around your criticisms of the incumbent leader is another. But publicly calling for a government's violent overthrow, succeeding and then boasting about it is in an entire universe of its own.

Chávez was restored to power by the actions of poor Venezuelans who took to the streets, and he was physically rescued by loyal forces within the military. He wasn't executed only because soldiers assigned to the task refused their orders. The events of the April 2002 coup still stir up bitter memories for the country.

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This is particularly the case with the role played by opposition media RCTV (owned by Venezuela’s wealthy Phelps family) and Globovisión, which belongs to one of Latin America's wealthiest men, Gustavo Cisneros, whose fortune is estimated at about $US4 billion.

In 2002, the award-winning documentary The Revolution Will Not Be Televised showed the world how poorly many in Venezuela’s private media behaved during the coup. The film shows that RCTV manipulated footage to make viewers believe that Chávez supporters had fired on unarmed Opposition demonstrators on April 11. This was then repeatedly used as a justification for a coup.

The film also shows some of the key coup organisers boasting about a meeting where they planned a media montage for the coup. Both Globovisión and RCTV were specifically thanked live on air by the golpistas (coup plotters) for their role in Chávez's overthrow.

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First published in New Matilda on June 13, 2007.



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About the Author

Rodrigo Acuña is a PhD candidate in International Studies at Macquarie University, Sydney. A recipient of Benchmark Prize in Hispanic Studies by the University of New South Wales, he was also runner up for Open Prose in the Unsweetened 2007 Literary Journal. He writes regularly on Latin American affairs and has presented seminars at various Australian universities on political developments in Venezuela, as well as other Latin American countries.

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