June 20, 2007

Willian Lara wouldn't recognize a public service broadcast if it bit him in the ass

Quico says: Every so often I catch myself almost thinking the government has a point: Venezuela has not been well served by its media culture over the years. How wonderful it would be if we could really reform the media, make it truly serve the public interest, really democratize it! Shouldn't we at least give the government a chance to do things differently?

At times like that, I pull myself together by clicking onto VTV's website, or RNV's. Because all the government's pious intentions dissolve into a deep dark void of meaninglessness within 20 seconds of browsing through the official media. The tone of relentless, open propagandism, the absence of even a pretense of balance, the outright refusal to give the other side its say marks just about every story in the official media - to an extent that's just incommensurable with the way the private media operates.

This is not to say that the private media is actually fair - heavens! - but we are talking apples and oranges here. In the private media, bias comes in mostly in terms of the stories chosen for particular attention. Opposition media seldom cover and never highlight stories that reflect well on the government or badly on its critics. But once a reporter is sent out on the beat, he sees his task mainly as telling you what actually happened. Stories about the government are often reported "straight," without adjectives, and relying largely on official statements. If there's a court case, reporters set out the facts of the case, if there's a march, they'll show you more or less what happened in the march. The level of attention dedicated to events is very often out of proportion to their importance, so the anti-government editorial bias is not really in question. But the stories themselves are usually a reasonable facsimile of journalism.

The official media sees the private media's story-selection bias, and raises it a deliriously partial treatment inside each story. Government talking points pop up again and again inside putatively descriptive stories, more or less verbatim, as do the standard set of insults and disqualifications against opponents. The channel of all Venezuelans spends a disconcerting amount of airtime describing one set of Venezuelans as the enemies of the other set. The dividing line between information and opinion, perilously stretched in private broadcasting, has disappeared altogether in the official media. VTV looks, by now, pretty much like a Middle Eastern dictatorship's propaganda arm, giving top billing to every presidential act no matter how routine or insignificant and conveying the government's political line undiluted.

The notion that the people who brought us VTV are going to "democratize the media," the posture that they're going to give us "public service broadcasting," is just too laughable for words. I know what public service broadcasting is supposed to look like, I understand the duty to make the powerful squirm that a truly independent journalist takes as his basic function, and everything we see in the official media is a more or less direct renunciation of those values.

Check out, for instance, the sort of thing British taxpayers get in return for their TV license fees:

That, my friends, is public service TV. The day we see a Paxman Criollo on VTV, I might take the government's pious promises about democratizing the media a smidgeon more seriously. As it stands, though, the promise is contradicted by daily experience to such an extreme that it counts as just another provocation.