May 25, 2007

Doing Orwell proud

Quico says: One of the most striking aspects of the RCTV Shut-Down episode has been the scale of the rhetorical U-Turn involved. These days, with regime apologists arguing that there is no link between shutting down a dissident TV network and freedom of speech, it's easy to forget that, over the years, it's chavistas who have made that link most forcefully. In fact, Chávez supporters used to positively brag about how they had never shut down an opposition media outlet, and consistently cited that fact when presenting their democratic bona fides.

So join me, gentle reader, on a stroll down Memory Lane, a tour of what some prominent chavistas have had to say on this issue:

Let's start with Heinz Dieterich - Chávez's favorite theorist. Watch him gloat over the regime's record in this regard in an interview on June 24th, 2001:
"There isn't a single persecuted journalist, not one media outlet has been shut down, there is not one political prisoner in the country. It would be hard to find another government in Latin America that has allowed so much press freedom."
We heard this kind of line all the time. Take Ultimas Noticias editor Eleazar Díaz Rangel. Invited to give the keynote address to the National Assembly on January 23rd, 2002, he spends much of his speech setting out in detail the pre-Chávez era's sordid practice of intimidating opposition news outlets through temporary shutdowns and sporadic arrests. He then pivots and contrasts that history with Chávez's proud record of restraint:
"No one can show, here or abroad, an instance of a single news item or a single article that hasn't been published as a consequence of the government's actions. There hasn't been a single imprisoned or jailed journalist, a single suspended or closed media outlet."
On April 5th, 2003, then Defense Minister José Vicente Rangel joined Dieterich in marching down that well-trod rhetorical alley. How can you tell that Chavismo is more democratic than the old regime? According to JVR, in part it's because they used to shut down critical media outlets, but we've never done anything like that:
"In Venezuela, in the real country, there isn't a single political prisoner, a single media outlet censored or banned, a single prosecuted journalist, a single desaparecido or torture victim. However, in the 40 years of the democracy that came before, all of that happened."
A few months earlier, Rangel had followed up virtually the same line with:
"Rest assured that Venezuela, under the leadership of Hugo Chávez, will not step off the path of democracy, shall never exit the path of the constitution."
It was JVR who most consistently made this link, implying time and again that moves to shut down opposition media as anathema to a democratic regime.

Want more? Luis Britto Gracía, writing in July 2003, takes evident pride in the democratic tolerance the revolution has shown to the coup-plotting news outlets, hinting that Chávez is such a democrat that his tolerance has virtually been excessive:
"In effect, after three years of trying to invoke a coup through the media, the state hasn't shut down or sanctioned a single media outlet, hasn't arrested a single journalist, censored a single news item, suspended a single constitutional guarantee or established a single minute's state of emergency. It's been an exemplary and almost unprecedented respect for the media..."
Variations on this riff, always built around that rhythmic, sing-song "ni un X, ni un Y, ni un Z," always designed to call attention to various instances of tolerant restraint, became boilerplate for chavistas who wanted to highlight their democratic legitimacy.

We heard them even from fairly obscure chavista pols, like National Assembly member William Querales, who went on the floor of the AN on October 7th, 2004 and said:
"I'm not ashamed to say that President Chávez is the only President in the history of Venezuelan democracy who hasn't shut down a single broadcaster, a single radio station, a single newspaper."
He followed it up by contrasting Chávez's record with the media intimidation tactics of the "false democracies" that came before.
By 2004, even Miranda state legislators were using it.

In fact, the riff became so firmly entrenched in the revolutionary rhetorical arsenal that some high officials continued to use it even after Chávez had announced he would shut down RCTV! Here's Vice-president Jorge Rodríguez on January 8th, 2007, during his swearing-in ceremony.
"If there's one thing this government has stood for is individual liberties, civil rights and especially freedom of speech. The only media outlet that has been shut down in the last eight years was Venezolana de Televisión, on the tragic night of April 11th."
And here's Human Rights Ombudsman Germán Mundaraín in an interview he gave even later, on January 30th of this year:
"We've seen a significant change, especially concerning freedom of speech. Never has a media outlet been shut down, except when there was a coup and the coupsters did it."
So, up until a few months ago, chavismo's position was clear: shutting down media outlets that criticize you is something only golpistas do.

In the last couple of months, though, the line has been not so much scrubbed from official rhetoric as reversed outright. This week VIO, Chávez's lobbying outfit in DC, sent out a "Press Advisory" that contends that:
"RCTV is Venezuela's oldest private broadcaster, but also the nation's most often cited for legal infractions. Previous offenses committed under other presidential administrations have led to repeated closures and fines for RCTV."
It's staggering. The same pre-Chavez measures that used to be cited to draw a contrast between Chávez's tolerance and past governments' intolerance are suddenly flipped on their head, reinterpreted and redeployed as a justification for Chávez's move. What can you even say?

Turns out Venezuela has always been at war with Eastasia.


"The principle of the impartiality of the state"?! Whassat??!

The European Parliament says:

A. whereas media pluralism and freedom of expression are an indispensable pillar of democracy,

B. whereas media freedom is of primary importance for democracy and respect for fundamental freedoms, given its essential role in guaranteeing the free expression of opinions and ideas and in contributing to people's effective participation in democratic processes,

C. whereas the non-renewal of the broadcasting license of the private audiovisual group Radio Caracas Televisión (RCTV), which expires on 27 May 2007, may endanger the future of a media organ employing 3000 people,

D. whereas the non-renewal of the license of this audiovisual organ, one of Venezuela's oldest and most important, will deprive a large section of the public of a pluralist source of information, thus undermining the right of the press to criticise the authorities,

E. whereas the President of Venezuela, Hugo Chávez, has announced that he was not going to renew the broadcasting licence of one of the country's leading television stations, Radio Caracas Televisión (RCTV) and the license expires on 27 May 2007,

F. whereas Radio Caracas Televisión is, according to the statements of the Venezuelan government, the only media organ affected by this decision concerning the non-renewal of its license,

G. whereas Articles 57 and 58 of Venezuela's Constitution guarantee freedom of expression, communication and information,

H. whereas Venezuela is a signatory to the International Pact on Civil and Political Rights, the International Pact on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the American Convention on Human Rights,

I. whereas RCTV has appealed to the Venezuelan Supreme Court, but the Court has failed to rule within the time-limit laid down in law,

J. whereas the attitudes for which the RCTV management is reproached should provide grounds, should the authorities consider it necessary, for ordinary legal proceedings,

K. whereas this decision was publicly announced at the end of December by the President himself, thus establishing an alarming precedent for freedom of expression in Venezuela,

1. Reminds the Government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela of its obligation to respect freedom of expression and opinion and freedom of the press, as it is bound to do under its own Constitution and under the Democratic Charter, the International Pact on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the American Convention on Human Rights, to which Venezuela is a signatory;

2. Calls on the Government of Venezuela, in the name of the principle of the impartiality of the state, to ensure equal treatment under the law for all media, whether privately or publicly owned and irrespective of all political or ideological considerations;

3. Calls for a dialogue between the Venezuelan Government and the country's private media, while deploring the government's total unwillingness to engage in dialogue in general, notably in the case of RCTV;

4. Calls, therefore, on the relevant delegations and committees of Parliament to examine this issue;

5. Instructs its President to forward this resolution to the Council, the Commission, the Secretary-General of the Organisation of American States (OEA), the EUROLAT Assembly, the Mercosur Parliament and the Government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.

May 24, 2007

VIO School of Hackery and Hucksterism

Quico says: So this memo made its way to my inbox...
MAY 22, 2007
TEL: 202-347-8081 X602 - MEDIA@VENINFO.ORG


Next Sunday, May 27th, marks the end of RCTV's right to broadcast on the public airwaves in Venezuela. The decision made by the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) not to renew the broadcasting license of RCTV has caused the owner of the Caracas-based station, Marcel Granier, to take legal action. A member of the opposition camp opposed to President Chavez, Granier controls about 40% of the Venezuelan media through his corporation, 1Broadcasting Company. Though his influence has helped garner support for RCTV, the Venezuelan Supreme Court ruled late last week to uphold the non-renewal decision. RCTV will still be permitted to broadcast via satellite and cable TV as well as the internet, all of which are exempt from NTC guidelines and widely available to the Venezuelan public.

RCTV is Venezuela's oldest private broadcaster, but also the nation's most often cited for legal infractions. Previous offenses committed under other presidential administrations have led to repeated closures and fines for RCTV. Most recently, RCTV supported an illegal coup against President Chavez in 2002 by encouraging citizens through their programming to overthrow their elected president and promoted an oil industry strike later that year.

RCTV's non-renewal has been condemned by U.S.-based non-governmental organizations such as Reporters Without Borders and the Committee to Protect Journalists. The United Nations and the Organization of American States have been approached to make rulings on the issue, but neither of these institutions has passed a resolution condemning Venezuela for the non-renewal of RCTV's license. In fact, OAS Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza has stated that the body "does not have the least intention to issue any condemnation against Venezuela." As the May 27th deadline approaches, a heightened debate is taking place about press freedoms in Venezuela and the role of the media in the political life of the country.







Megan Morrissey
Media Analyst
Venezuela Information Office
202-347-8081 x602
Verrrrry interesting. Time was when chavistas bragged that, unlike past governments, they had never shut down an oppo broadcaster. That's how JVR usually responded when challenged about press freedom. Remember that?

Now we find out that Chávez's decision to shut down RCTV permanently is legitimate because the station has such a sordid history of past infractions that even before Chávez was around, the government had to shut it down now and then. See how that works?

Here are a few questions we might all want to ask Ms. Morrissey.
  • What can we infer about the independence of these experts from the fact that their PR is handled by the Venezuelan government's DC lobbying arm?
  • Why precisely doesn't VIO disclose that it is a registered representative of the Venezuelan government in its "Press Advisories"?
  • If the private media's position in 2002-2003 is the main reason for the shutdown, why don't they also shut down Televen and Venevisión?
  • Isn't the phrase "illegal coup" redundant? Or is this to differentiate it from February 4th?
  • Why should my tax bolivars be spent promoting the views of Mark Weisbrot?
  • How does a "media analyst" whose job it is to provide PR cover to a government that silences dissenting voices in the media sleep at night? Chamomile? Valeriana? Hospital-grade demerol?
  • And why should we hang the DJ anyway?!
Got ten minutes to kill!? You have her contact info right there!


May 22, 2007

Vivanco gets it

Katy says: Human Rights Watch came out with a statement today blasting the Chávez government for shutting down RCTV, Venezuela's oldest and most critical TV network.

One of the report's strong points is that it doesn't deny the state's "right" to control the airwaves. Rather, it blasts the government for not even pretending to grant RCTV due process of law. As José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch, sardonically put it, “the government’s proposal to democratize the airwaves sounds great in theory, but shutting down broadcasters for their political views is not the way to do it.”

HRW notes that "no procedure was established to enable RCTV to present evidence and arguments in its favor; the criteria on which the decision was based were not established clearly beforehand, nor was there any application or selection process allowing RCTV to submit an application for continuation of its concession."

HRW also points out that the justification for shutting down the station came months after the decision was announced, that it ignored the arguments RCTV had made in its own defense, and that so far, neither the network nor any of its representatives have been convicted of any wrongdoing in any court of law.

José Miguel Vivanco and HRW continue to stick up for Venezuelans' rights, speaking out clearly and succinctly on the ongoing deterioration of the country's human rights situation. I strongly recommend re-visiting their report on Chávez's move to pack the Supreme Court. Or you can check out its entire page on Venezuela - it's loaded with good information.

Quico notes: Psssh...Vivanco. Another one who didn't get the memo about why you can't judge the revolution "through reference to the procedural mechanics of liberal democracy."


An (dis)empowerment proxy

Quico says: Empowerment. Chavismo gives the poor the tools they need to gain mastery over their own lives, to realize the possibilities open to them and to seize them. That's the basic reason the reason to support the Bolivarian Revolution. Buxton dixit. And not just her, it's a central PSF theme.

But it's a slippery concept. How could you measure such a thing, how do you certify its extent? Can we imagine something like a reliable proxy, a metric to ensure that something more is going on here than Julia Buxton going to some Community Council meetings and having her ideological erogenous zones stroked?

Here's one possibility: if we can't measure empowerment, maybe we can measure its opposite. Maybe we can find a clear proxy for generalized hopelessness, for despair. Maybe we can measure what happens when the poor lose any confidence in the future, when their communities' sense of possibility withers away.

We have such a proxy already: the murder rate. And it has more than quadrupled in the eight years since Chávez came to power.

How can we reconcile chavismo's narrative of radical empowerment with the 18,381 corpses that turned up in Venezuelan morgues last year? How is it imaginable that communities newly and radically in charge of their own destinies kill each other at four times the rate of their radically disempowered counterparts of 1998? What sense does that make?

May 21, 2007

The Paradox of Politization

Quico says: Chávez has politicized everything. But chavismo is scared of politics. Chavismo dramatically expands the political domain, injecting politics into every nook and crevice of daily life. From the country's official name to black bean packaging, no sphere seems off limits. At the same time, chavismo fears politics. It goes to great lengths to avoid genuine political exchange, the back-and-forth of genuinely opposed ideas. Chavismo shares the old left's suspicion of bourgeois politics, its antipathy towards the unpredictable cut and thrust of political debate - it likes political ideas safely directed from the center, not running wild beyond their control. For chavismo, politics must be everywhere, but must everywhere be controlled.