November 11, 2009

Not red enough for VTV: Squalid media and revolutionary discontent

Juan Cristóbal says: Many of Venezuela's public servants are mad. They, the red-wearing base of the Revolution, are mad because they don't get paid, because their places of work are under-equipped and they don't have benefits. Mostly, they're mad because they've been promised collective bargaining that never materializes and because their dignity is being trampled on.

But if you didn't watch Globovisión, you probably wouldn't know this.

The list of ironies and internal contradictions of the Bolivarian Revolution is long. One of the more notable recent additions is the fact that Globovisión, one of chavismo's most overused scapegoats, has become the outlet of choice for rank-and-file chavistas with an itch to bitch against the government.

A brief scan of what's been in the news lately could give you a flavor of massive dollop of irony involved.

Here we see a video of the very angry employees of the government-run Hotel Alba Caracas (what used to be the Caracas Hilton before Chávez ... never mind). The employees, more than 400 of them, are incandescent because they haven't been paid and are being harassed by management. They complain about their appalling working conditions - chefs decry the lack of butter, laundry attendants fret over washing machines that don't work. And Globovisión is the only channel there, listening and reporting.

Government oil workers in Anzoátegui State, in eastern Venezuela, are also causing a ruckus. They denounce the government for not signing a new collective bargaining agreement. Union leaders are quick to point out that they will defend their rights just like they "defended the industry during the oil strike of 2002-2003." Globovisión is there to air their frustration.

The government's postal service is also in upheaval. Workers carp that their rights are being trampled upon, saying that "socialism is not being applied here." Unions are being harassed and so they are sending a message to "Comrade Hugo Chávez" ... in case he's watching Globovisión. The union leader interviewed rues that all media has been invited, but only Globovisión came, bitterly singling out a State media that won't air their views.

Apparently, chavismo has not grasped just how dangerous a disgruntled postal worker can be.

Workers from the El Algodonal hospital, west of Caracas, also criticized the government recently for their terrible working conditions. They talk about the crime spree inside the hospital, the lack of doctors and the scarcity of supplies. The person interviewed alerts us that the hospital's Emergency Room has been shut for a year. Another group of workers says they haven't been paid in more than two months, that there's no water, and that sewers run openly next to the hospital.

Retired National Assembly workers also aired their beef in downtown Caracas recently. More than a thousand former workers made a fuss because their pensions haven't been paid. Again, Globovisión carried it prominently.

Even in far-off Portuguesa state, Health Ministry workers use Globovisión as a vehicle to air their grievances about the capacity of their manager and their working conditions. At least these workers managed to get the attention of a chavista Assembly-woman.

And this is just a flavor from the past few days.

But scan VTV's web page and there is no mention of the hotel maids, the oil workers, the El Algodonal ladies, or any of the other government employees who are up in arms. Off-script revolutionaries are strictly verboten on "the channel of all Venezuelans".

The workers' gripes stick to a well-defined script. Worker says she is "with the process", a necessary qualifying statement in order to keep her job. Worker then pledges allegiance to Comrade Chávez and to socialism. Worker goes on to complain that the government is a mess and demands a piece of the petro-pie. Worker reminds the viewer that she and her compañeros are with the process - just in case it wasn't clear. Worker hands it off to fellow worker with a different gripe. And so on...

Once in a while, the worker on the screen will express their surprise and disappointment at the fact that Globovisión is the only channel willing to listen. In a way, Globovisión has become the de facto voice of the proletariat. One would hope the proletariat would ask themselves where they will take their grievances if their beloved "comrade" fulfills his pledge to shut down the only TV channel willing to take them seriously.

This bizarre pattern underscores the vital role that independent media plays in a well-functioning society. On VTV, revolutionaries are useful as props, as abstract tokens of support for the whim of the leader. The second those revolutionaries transcend that role and acquire any depth, any complexity, any individuality, they become dangerous provocateurs to be silenced rather than citizens to be served.

We've been very critical of Globovisión's harsh, strident anti-Chávez content on this blog. But when the channel does what it should - report the news and tell the stories nobody else is telling - it plays a pivotal role in the preservation of what little democratic space we have left.