Friday, April 27, 2007

Chavez Silences Independent Media

At the end of last year, the regime of Hugo Chavez announced that it would not renew the license of one of Venezuela's leading independent television stations, RCTV. The station has been outspoken in its criticism of Chavez and his government. A recent poll shows that 70% of Venezuelans oppose this move as an infringement of their freedom of choice. It also has disturbing implications for free expression, a fear confirmed by a new report from the Committee to Protect Journalists:

Founded in 1953, RCTV has long been known for its strident opposition views, but it disputes the government's assertions of illegality and says the Chávez administration is engaging in political retaliation and suppression of critical news coverage. RCTV said it was never penalized for any violation, only warned. By contrast, RCTV said, the government left intact the licenses of other stations that have been penalized.

This record, CPJ found, reflects an arbitrary and opaque decision-making process that sets an alarming precedent and casts doubt on Venezuela's commitment to freedom of expression. The threat of losing access to the airwaves hangs over dozens of other television and radio stations whose concessions have also come up for renewal, prompting some news outlets to pull back on critical programming. The RCTV case also comes as the Chávez administration is moving aggressively to expand state media and amplify its voice. The government says it will take over RCTV's frequency with plans to make it a public broadcasting channel.

(Emphasis added-DD)

The report does an excellent job providing the context of the struggle between the government and independent media, with special focus on the April 2002 attempted coup against Chavez. It also points out how other media outlets have engaged in self-censorship in order to avoid trouble with the Chavez government. The following passage is particularly disturbing:

Coup or not, it's had a lasting effect on the news media. Venevisión, RCTV's main competitor as Venezuela's top-rated TV channel, appears to have escaped the government's ire for the time being. Once among the Chávez administration's favorite targets, Venevisión, led by media mogul Gustavo Cisneros, had opposed the government and championed the opposition's cause. Officials had previously alleged that Cisneros was a leading figure in the events surrounding the coup. But in June 2004, a private meeting between Chávez and Cisneros, mediated by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and the Carter Center, produced a ceasefire of sorts. "There was a mutual commitment to honor constitutional processes and to support further discussions between the government of Venezuela and the country's news media to ensure the most appropriate climate for this constitutional process," the Carter Center said in a statement. Venevisión subsequently removed opinion and news shows that were highly critical of Chávez, and it now focuses almost exclusively on entertainment programming. Today, government officials cite Venevisión as a model of behavior. Venevisión executives did not return messages from CPJ seeking comment on programming.

(Emphasis added-DD)

Yes, Jimmy Carter, former U.S. president, helped persuade the head of Venevision to censor anti-Chavez content from his network. I think I'll be holding off on any more Carter Center contributions.

Returning to the RCTV situation, CPJ reaches a grim conclusion:

Without ensuring due process in the RCTV case, the government reinforces that viewpoint. The record shows that, first, a decision was announced, and then a flurry of public allegations made. But thus far, there has been no fair and transparent process whereby evidence could be scrutinized and the station could present its case. Instead, the record reflects the actions of a government motivated by political considerations to suppress critical coverage.

Because the broadcast concessions of many radio and television stations are due to expire this year, the RCTV case is forcing other outlets to soften their coverage and rid their programs of critical voices. The Chávez administration appears to be replacing what it considers to be corporate domination of the airwaves with state domination.

In January, the chairman of RCTY, Marcel Granier, wrote an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal about the license issue. I'll give him the last word:

The actions against RCTV of President Chávez and his subordinates are in violation of the Venezuelan constitution, the American Convention on Human Rights, and the Inter-American Democratic Charter. They are a clear example of abuse of power, and violate the right to work of all those in the media industry, not to mention a violation of the freedom of thought and expression of millions of citizens who seek information and ideas of their own free choice.

We are faced, in effect, with an aggressive campaign to extinguish all thought that differs from that which is officially dubbed "revolutionary."


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Freedom of media is more important for attaining public's trust. Political attack on the critical news must be prohibited. The article give the views upon the controversy between the Government & the media.

3:25 AM  

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