May 8, 2007

RCTV as Information Shortcut

Quico says: One thing is clear: RCTV's impending closure has been a public relations Waterloo for Chávez, an unmitigated disaster. The move has undone years of carefully spun ambiguity about his government's democratic credential. It finally puts some meat on the bones of our charge of authortarianism, it substantiates it in a way institutions like the ICHR and the Chilean Senate can't ignore and Chávez can't bullshit his way out of.

The decision to shut down RCTV hands the opposition a crushing information shortcut. Because your average international newspaper reader has limited time to devote to Venezuela, and even more limited interest. He will not make judgments based on anything close to complete information - he'll rely instead on shortcuts, on a few symbolic markers to help him skip a lot of the dreary, time-consuming work of gathering information about a subject he doesn't care that much about in the first place.

Now, until this year, the Chávez regime has been a masterful manipulator of this situation. In the era of American hyperpower, ranting against George Bush is the ultimate information shortcut: it allows people to place you in their universe of likes and dislikes immediately, viscerally, costlessly. For a startling number of people abroad, the fact that Chávez hates Bush and takes the piss out of him in public is all they know and all they feel they need to know about the Bolivarian Revolution. Chavismo has garnered a shocking amount of international good will through this trick alone.

For all our abstract ranting about dawning authoritarianism, those of us who oppose Chávez hadn't had a similarly effective informational shortcut at our disposal...until Chávez handed us this one.

Slowly but surely, the fact that Chávez is the kind of ruler who'll shut down a TV station to silence dissent is seeping into international public opinion. And just as our protests about hypocrisy, about the way Chávez was still doing tens of billions of dollars worth of business with the US even as he denounced gringo imperialism, could not blunt the effectiveness of his anti-Bush rant, no amount of gab is likely to stanch the damage Chávez has done himself by deciding to shut down RCTV. It's a fight he can't win.