June 23, 2007

Katy does Caracas

Quico says: As I write this, my partner-in-blog Katy is airborne and Caracas-bound, for a few days that should yield some top-grade blogging. Do you have any questions for her? Anything in particular you think she should look into? This comments section is your chance.

June 21, 2007

Boo for beeb bashing

Quico says: Et tu, Katy? Jumping onto the facile bandwagon of BBC bashing? Ugh. Just because an outlet doesn't sound like Martha Colomina does not make them cryptochavistas. Maybe I'm too much of a beeb habitué to buy it, but c'mon.

You want a real "sheesh, even they've turned" item? Check this out. The Nation, the quasi-official home of gringo fringy leftiedom, is running ranting anti-Chávez pieces. Now that's something.

Damn British imperialists...

Katy says: Something isn't right in the revolution when even the BBC criticizes the government.

The final quote is priceless: "Bureaucracy, inefficiency and corruption are evils that weaken President Chavez's revolution - a revolution that is moving forward faster now than ever before."

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.

June 19, 2007

The best on the RCTV closing

Katy says: Alex Beech's post on the RCTV closing represents the clearest debunking of the government's ludicrous position. It's a tour de force.

June 18, 2007

Lights and shadows

Katy says: The recent awakening of Venezuela's student movement has been hailed in the media and the opposition blogosphere. For good reason: there's lots to like in the students' approach, and the movement's main figures have shown tremendous poise and a fresh approach to dealing with a difficult situation. But as with every development in Venezuela, there is a downside: one that I am afraid is being overlooked.

Analyses of the student movement have fallen prey, in my opinion, to several temptations. The first is the tendency to overstate its importance. University students in Venezuela have always been on the fringe. While their relevance cannot be denied, we must remember they are one of many groups in a society that is increasingly complex.

Let's face it, for every university student in Venezuela there are three, five or ten other young people that were not able to get in because they didn't have access to the economic and academic resources it takes to go. There is a world of difference between, say, an Engineering senior at USB and a Sociology major at LUZ, and between them as a "group" and the thousands of young people that wander aimlessly through the streets of our cities trying to cobble together a living. These differences point to an incoherence and a weakness in the movement that is inherent to its nature and limits its appeal.

The second troubling aspect is that the movement is likely to be short lived. Student leaders are here today, gone tomorrow. University movements are fluid precisely because being a student is in itself merely a step - all these kids will, sooner rather than later, move on, and we are not assured that the ones that come afterwards will be able to pick up their flags.

The important student movements of the past (the "Generación del 28" or the French students of 68, for example) left a mark, but their impact was usually not felt immediately. While the protests themselves shaped general opinion, the true mark of a generation's awakening is made when that initial burst of energy is transformed into sustained participation in public life, through channels established or not. This process takes a commitment on behalf of the group, especially in society that is growing ever more authoritarianism.

Which leads me to the third troubling aspect, the movement's exaltation of "anti-politics." Time and again we hear of student leaders saying, to the sound of the country's applause, that they do not belong to any political party and want nothing to do with them.

This is a mistake. If Venezuela is ever going to get out of this mess, it won't be by embracing the quasi-anarchist positions extolled by all those (chavista or not) who reject political parties in general.

While the anti-political stance is understandable - Lord knows political parties have not done much to deserve the public's trust - it's also dangerous to embrace the notion that parties as such are in the way. While our political parties are far from perfect, it would have been nice for the student leaders to emphasize the need to participate in them and improve them from the inside. Yet so far, all we hear is a rejection of all political parties (old or new), a fruitless repetition of the "anti-political" stance that has been extolled by many since the mid-80s.

Back when I was in college, I was also a student representative who rejected politics and political parties, so I cannot look at the current movement in a cynical fashion but, instead, with a great deal of optimism and nostalgia, just like everyone else. But while I salute them, I try and put them in their right context.

The student movement is not going to get us out of this jam. They may eventually, after these kids have lived a little more, worked hard, kept studying and remained motivated. But when they extoll misguided values or when we give them excessive importance, we lose sight of more immediate and practical solutions, and in that way, the student movement may be hurting us a little.