Wikileaks Cables Reveal U.S. Embassy Works with Venezuelan Private Media
The U.S. ambassador to Venezuela, Patrick Duddy, met with Venezuelan private media companies El Nacional, Globovision, and the Cisneros Group, to discuss their political content with them and El Nacional asked the U.S embassy for funding, according to cables written by the U.S embassy in Caracas and published by Wikileaks.
Duddy met with the 2002 coup supporting channel, Globovision, and with private newspaper El Nacional on 17 and 19 February 2010, and documented the meeting in a cable written that month and released by Wikileaks on 30 August 2011, classified as secret and titled, “Globovision Owners Acknowledge Defeat: El Nacional on the Ropes?”
El Nacional told the embassy that it had allegedly lost “advertising revenue from companies that had either been nationalised or been threatened by the [Venezuelan government]” and asked “the Ambassador whether the U.S. could provide [it with financial] assistance.” The newspaper said it was reaching “the end of its financial rope” and predicted that it could be out of business by April of that year (2010).
The El Nacional representative (whose name is blacked out) said El Universal had also lost advertising revenues, “over 14%, with the recent nationalisation of Exito [supermarket chain]”.
The U.S embassy cable reads, “To keep El Nacional alive, XXXXXXXXXXXX asked the Ambassador whether the Embassy knew of services of private financing they could approach outside the country, or failing that, if the USG [U.S. government] could be persuaded to help.”
El Nacional currently still circulates on a daily basis.
A Globovision representative, their name also blacked out in the cable, alleged that Venezuelan government officials had pressured them to “tone down Globovision's strongly anti-Chavez orientation” and talked about “buying time” until the National Assembly elections (which took place in September last year), saying “If Chavez wins, we are all gone.” The pro-Chavez party, the United Socialist Party of Venezuela, did win a majority in those elections, and Globovision remains fully on air.
According to lawyer and journalist Eva Golinger, Globovision has a special agreement to transmit the program “La Voz de America” (The Voice of America), which is financed and supervised by the U.S government.
“Its objective is to promote pro-U.S propaganda in Latin America. For 2011, the U.S congress approved a multimillion budget in order to transmit the thirty minute program five days a week in Venezuela, supposedly to counteract the anti-US propaganda by the Venezuelan government,” Golinger said.
Another cable, written and released on the same dates, classified confidential and titled, “Venevision Seaks ‘Balance’ in News Coverage” related a meeting between Ambassador Duddy and the largest private media conglomerate in Venezuela, the Cisneros Group, which owns free to air television station Venevision, as well as phone company Digitel, several news websites, radio stations, the Miss Venezuela pageant, and Coca-Cola FEMSA Venezuela. Duddy alleged in the cable that “some in the opposition” claim that Venevision has made “backroom agreements” with the government to water down its criticisms and “avoid retaliation”.
However, as the cable details, during the meeting between the U.S. embassy and the Cisneros Group, which took place at Venevision headquarters on 10 February 2010, the television channel denied any government deal or self-censorship.
Carlos Bardasano, representing Venevision, said, according to the cable, that due to “the highly polarised atmosphere in the country, Venevision strives for objective and neutral news coverage.”
“He said the station's coverage tends to be approximately 60% opposition and 40% pro-government by content, with the ultimate goal of achieving a 50/50 balance.”
In the cable the ambassador is not impressed with Venevision’s “objective” stance. “The Ambassador reminded Venevision executives that should Globovision be closed, Venevision would have to carry the banner of freedom of expression”.
Context: Media power and influence in Venezuela
Eleazar Rangel, editor of highest circulating and private newspaper in Venezuela, Ultimas Noticias, said at a forum in New York last year that, “What’s not published in Venezuela is what media owners don’t want published”. He also said no one had ever offered any evidence of news not being published in Venezuela because of government pressure.
According to Rangel, in Venezuela, “there are currently between 90 and 100 newspapers, of which 80 percent side with the political opposition...and of AM radio stations, at least 400 broadcast the content of outlets that have assumed the role of directing the [political] opposition.”
Further, according to research by Mark Weisbot and Tara Ruttenberg, of CEPR, as of September 2010, Venezuelan state TV channels had just a 5.4% audience share. Of the other 94.6% of the audience, 61.4% watched privately owned television channels, and 33.1% watched paid TV.
Coordinator of the Global Media Observatory in Venezuela, Maryclen Stelling, said, “Venezuelan media outlets have stopped publishing information and have instead dedicated themselves to producing their own realities,” adding that it was possible to talk about the creation of “media parties” in Venezuela.
At the end of last year, after the above cables were written and meetings took place, the Venezuelan National Assembly modified its media social responsibility law. The main changes consisted in including internet news services as media, and requiring the broadcast of at least 50% nationally produced television during prime hours.
In general, Venezuela’s media laws are similar to those of most countries, and media can broadcast what it likes, as long as it does not incite hate, criminal activity, war propaganda, homicide, or the disobeying of constitutional authority.