August 13, 2009

Ceci N'est Pas Une Innondation

Quico says: Caracas's unelected mayor-cum-chavista-viceroy, Jacqueline Faría, went all fascio on the media's coverage of the heavy rains that caused commuting chaos yesterday.

Taking the chance to - and you can't make this stuff up - politicize the weather, she started by needling the opposition, noting that only oppo run parts of the city seemed to be having any problems. But then, she took that extra-step from excessively thin-skinned politician to enforcer of authoritarianism by warning that the media's coverage of the flash floods was misinforming the public and creating a "situation of alarm"...leaving the rest up to each journalist's imagination.

In the media environment Chavismo is creating, such a "warning" from someone in a position like Faría's is indistinguishable from censorship. With the government flirting with laws that would jail journalists for publishing news that set off "panic", "alter public order" or commit any of another half dozen vaguely defined offenses, a statement like Faría's becomes something far more pernicious than a bit of freelance media criticism and comes right up to the edge of prior restraint.

After all, it's chavistas who will decide what "setting off panic" means in practice and a very highly placed one has just told you that the news you've just published comes perilously close to that.

Of course, you could take your chances: keep publishing the same story and look forward to trying to convince a provisional judge in a chavista court who can lose his job on the spot if he bucks orders from his higher-ups on the Supreme Tribunal that "causing alarm" is not the same thing as "setting off panic." Would you want to find yourself in that position?

And that, in a nutshell, is freedom of speech, Chávez style. It rains. Streets flood. You go on the air saying it's raining and streets are flooding. Some apparatchik feels threatened by your report. She silences you. Simple as that.

No need for a censorship board, for a highly visible regime...just threats vague enough but credible enough to make it exceedingly foolhardy on your part to keep reporting news the government doesn't want reported. It's the perfect censorship regime.