Hugo Chavez and the private media
On August 2, 2009, Reporters Without Borders (RWB) issued a statement denouncing the closure of "thirty four broadcast media at the government's behest" in Venezuela. The Paris-based organization "vigorously condemns the massive closure of broadcast media" and asks: "Is it still possible to publicly express any criticism at all of President Hugo Chavez's ‘Bolivarian' government? This massive closure of mainly opposition media is dangerous for the future of democratic debate in Venezuela and is motivated by the government's desire to silence dissent. It will only exacerbate social divisions." (1)
RWB makes reference to the decision taken by the Venezuelan National Telecommunications Commission (Conatel) on August 1, 2009 to withdraw the broadcast licenses of thirty-four radio and television stations. According to RWB, this decision is motivated only by the fact that these media outlets criticized the government of Hugo Chavez. In short, it was a political act intended to silence the opposition press. The vast majority of the Western media has repeated this interpretation. (2)
However this is not the situation and RWB and the media multinationals have carefully concealed the truth in order to mislead public opinion and present the most democratic government in Latin America (Hugo Chavez has faced 15 electoral processes since coming to power in 1998 and has emerged victorious in fourteen of these elections, all praised by the international community for their transparency) as a regime which seriously violates freedom of expression.
Indeed, in similar circumstances any country in the world would have made the same decision Conatel did. Several stations deliberately ignored a summons from the Commission designed to determine the status of their licenses and bring them up to date. After an investigation, Conatel discovered numerous irregularities, such as deceased licensees whose licenses were being used by third persons, non-renewal of the required administrative procedures, or simply the lack of authorization to broadcast. Venezuelan law, like that in the rest of the world, stipulates that a media outlet that fails to renew its concession within a specified time period or that broadcasts without authorization will lose its transmission frequency, which will then revert back to the public domain. Thus, thirty-four stations that were broadcasting illegally lost their licenses. (3)
In fact, the decision by Conatel, far from restricting freedom of expression, has put an end to an illegal situation and has initiated a policy of democratization of the Venezuelan radio spectrum with the goal of putting it at the disposition of the community. In reality, 80% of radio and television stations in Venezuela are privately owned, while only 9% of them are public and the rest belonging to associations or communities. Moreover, the majority of Venezuelan private media is concentrated in the hands of 32 families. (4)
Thus, RWB and the western media have totally distorted a routine measure taken by Conatel to put an end to an illegal situation.
RWB has chosen as its modus operandi a tooth-and-nail defense of the Venezuelan opposition, which was responsible for the April 2002 coup against Chavez, a coup that the Parisian organization endorsed immediately. In particular, RWB defends the coup-supporting channel Globovision, which RWB considers the symbol of freedom of expression in Venezuela. (5) However, RWB fails to point out that in addition to its active participation in the 2002 coup, Globovision supported the sabotage of the Venezuelan oil industry that same year, launched a call for taxpayers not to pay their taxes, and called for insurrection and the assassination of President Chavez. (6)
Recently, Globovision supported the junta behind the coup in Honduras that overthrew the democratically elected president Jose Manuel Zelaya, a coup unanimously condemned by the international community. The owner of Globovision, William Zuloaga Nunez, recognized the illegal government of Micheletti, launching at the same time a call for a coup d'état in Venezuela: "The Micheletti government is following the constitution and we wish, we would love it if in Venezuela the constitution would be respected as it is being respected in Honduras." (7)
RWB does not defend freedom of expression in Venezuela. Rather it prefers to take the side of the enemies of democracy.
(Translated from Spanish to English by David Brookbank)
(1) Reporters Without Borders, «Trente-quatre médias audiovisuels sacrifiés par caprice gouvernemental», 2 de agosto de 2009. http://www.rsf.org/Trente-quatre-medias-audiovisuels.html (sitio consultado el 3 de agosto de 2009). Reporters Without Borders, "Thirty four broadcast media shut down at government's behest", August 2, 2009. http://rsf.org/34-broadcast-media-shut-down-at.html (site consulted on August 3, 2009).
(2) Agencia Bolivariana de Noticias, «Productores independientes respaldan suspensión de emisoras radiales ilegales», 4 de agosto de 2009.
(3) Fabiola Sánchez, «Radios desafían a Chávez operando por Internet», The Associated Press, 3 de agosto de 2009.
(4) Thierry Deronne, «Au Venezuela, la bataille populaire pour démocratiser le ‘latifundio' des ondes», 2 de agosto de 2009. En español: La batalla popular para democratizar el latifundio de las ondas; Agencia Bolivariana de Noticias, «Medida de Conatel no afectará libertad de expresión e información en Venezuela», 4 de agosto de 2009.
(5) Reporters Without Borders, «Le gouvernement accélère sa croisade contre les médias privés en voulant modifier les lois et les règles», 21 de julio de 2009. Reporters Without Borders, "Government steps up hounding of private media through new laws and regulations", July 21, 2009.
(6) Salim Lamrani, «Reporters sans frontières contre la démocratie vénézuélienne», Voltaire, 2 juillet 2009.
(7) Agencia Bolivariana de Noticias, «Globovisión apoya marcha a favor de gobierno golpista en Honduras», 22 de julio de 2009.
Salim Lamrani is a professor at Paris Descartes University and Paris-Est Marne-la-Vallée University and French journalist, specializing on relations between Cuba and the US. He has just published Doble Moral. Cuba, la Unión Europea y los derechos humanos, [Double Standards. Cuba, the European Union and Human Rights]; (Hondarribia: Editorial Hiru, 2008). His new book is entitled, Cuba: Ce que les medias ne vous diront jamais [Cuba: What the media will never tell you] (Paris: Editorial Estrella, 2009) with a prologue by Nelson Mandela. Contact: email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org