September 3, 2009

Maintaining Radio Silence

Quico says: I hadn't wanted to mention it, but I guess this post blows my cover. I'm in Caracas again, working on a couple of projects. When I'm in town, I always spend a lot of time listening to the radio, catching up with the one bit of the Venezuelan public sphere I really don't have access to abroad. The experience this time has shaken me.

In a word, it worked. Shutting down those 34 dissident stations two months ago has brought an arctic freeze over free expression on the radio. You can spend an evening in Caracas going up and down the dial and never once hear any critical political content at all. It's staggering.To a shocking degree, critical content about the government is just not available on the radio anymore.

Now, as always, most of what's broadcast is music. There's still a decent amount of talk radio, though. On the private stations, it consists of a mix of baseball games, evangelicals urging you to pray hard to the holy spirit, teenie-boppers talking about teenie-bopper stuff, and fluffy health and lifestyle shows about the benefits of macrobiotic shakes or multiple orgasms. On the state-owned stations and the misnamed "community" broadcasters ("parastatal" is more like it), all you get are ranting chavistas, all day, every day.

You sporadically come across an extreeeeemely vanilla "finance" or "economics" show on a private station that, with some bravado, and stuck in between pieces lauding Empreven and touting the business opportunities created by Alba, might obliquely note that allowing real currency appreciation might have something to do with deincentivating local industry.

When they cut to commercial, half the advertising is for Cantv.

As one of my contacts here noted, the key to understanding the current trend towards militant self-censorship isn't just the 34 radio stations the government shut down: it's the none-too-subtle hint Conatel chief Diosdado Cabello gave when he said his agency is actively looking into 220 other radio stations' paperwork as well.

Thing is, Conatel never published the actual list. Diosdado never specified which stations he was looking into. So if you're a radio station manager, you have no way of knowing if you're on the list or not. Elementary caution dictates that you have to assume that you are. So, effectively, the sword of Damocles is hanging over the lot of them. Under those circumstances, nobody's willing to take a chance.

It may be that I'm listening at the wrong times. Apparently Marta Colomina is still ranting away on UnionRadio and we're just on different schedules. But the contrast with the way radio was just three months ago is staggering. More than once this trip I've devoted a solid 2 or 3 hours to parading up and down the radio dial checking out what's on and heard NOTHING you could consider critical broadcasting. Nothing at all. Nothing.

I have seen the face of communicational hegemony. And it's ugly.