by Rick Rockwell
Recriminations, charges and counter-charges are flying more than two weeks after Venezuela unplugged its oldest TV network. In this propaganda war, the rhetoric is so hot, it could bend steel.
Until the next round in the Venezuelan media war, perhaps it is time to put the spin in slow motion and to deflate the hyperbole on both sides.
First, to the left side of the political spectrum where some are proving the conservative caricature of knee jerk liberalism may indeed exist. If President George Bush and his Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice say Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez is bad, then knee jerk logic holds that whatever Chavez does is good. Never mind that Bush and Chavez may be cut from the same autocratic cloth.
Enter Robert McChesney. For those who may be unfamiliar with McChesney, he is the leading academic voice against corporate media in the United States. But he’s a late-comer when it comes to Latin America. So, he’s brought along co-author Mark Weisbrot of the Center for Economic and Policy Research to give him some heft internationally.
Their article arguing for the RCTV shutdown hinges on three main arguments, which are mostly correct. But their final point veers off to repeat almost word for word the stand of the Chavez government, that RCTV can establish a cable or satellite network and that Venezuela has better conditions for free expression now than even the United States. Of course, this is classic propaganda. After using factual arguments, McChesney and Weisbrot slip in those whoppers. If Venezuela’s media system was compromised before Chavez (as Elizabeth Fox, a real media expert on Latin America has argued) and during Chavez’ first term (as Jose Antonio Mayobre, a Venezuelan expert, has argued) then how did it suddenly transform into one of the most free in the world? Could closing RCTV alone have done that? And finally, how many Venezuelans can pay to watch a cable or satellite network when about 70 percent of the country exists on about two dollars a day?
Then there is Justin Delacour of the Latin America News Review. His analysis actually cuts to some of the core issues: race and class. But you have to wade through the cheap shots about protesters having designer fingernails and not seeming original to get to his points. (Who cares if protest movements borrow from Berkeley and Madison in the 1960s?)
But the information on the conservative right is no better. Look at the analysis from Andres Oppenheimer, the supposedly visionary columnist for The Miami Herald. (Oppenheimer predicted Fidel Castro would be leaving power soon…in 1993.) Reporting from the summit of the Organization of American States (OAS) in Panama, Oppenheimer breathlessly tells us that Chavez has triumphed because not enough nations spoke out against the RCTV shut down. Never mind that governments around the world condemned Chavez and you could find anti-Chavez cartoons as far away as India. Oppenheimer’s column is designed to rally the right-wing troops to the battlements, lest Chavez ultimately win. But even a right-wing outlet such as Venezuela’s El Universal has more balance in its coverage. That paper noted general concern for RCTV was voiced on many fronts at the summit, although Chavez apparently won’t give permission for an OAS task force to visit Venezuela.
Then there’s conservative Thor Halvorssen (writing in The New York Post) who is so upset about RCTV that he is tearing into one of the other corporate television bosses in Venezuela, Diego Cisneros, the owner of Venevision. On the right, Cisneros is now regarded as a traitor because he did not forcefully join with RCTV as he did in the failed 2002 coup against Chavez. And with RCTV out of the way, Venevision, the country’s top network is further poised to consolidate its already overwhelming ratings advantage. Halvorssen calls RCTV’s owner Marcel Granier a hero, disregarding his traitorous actions in 2002.
So when it comes to Chavez and Venezuela, be careful what you read. The word on the far left inevitably repeats the position of the government without question, and the conservatives sound like wounded, panicked animals. We now return you to the world of spin where the information may not always be straight, but it makes for very entertaining reading.
For more background on this story, please see these previous entries:
- "Hugo Chavez v. The Media: Next Round;"
- "The Closing of Venezuela's RCTV & Leftist Orthodoxy;"
- "Latin America's Many Fronts in the War on Words;"
- "Venezuela: Why Political Activists Don't Get Free Expression;"
- "World Press Freedom Day: Concern for Venezuela;"
- "Chavez Takes the Gloves Off Against RCTV;" and
- "Venezuela: Politics, Propaganda, and Polarization."
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