Hugo Chavez… is dead. Media censorship in Venezuela… is still very much alive. They say that old habits die hard and after 14 years of eccentric leadership that renounce unwaveringly almost any form of discord, it won’t be that easy to alter the customary wont.
Viva la Revolucion! (or something)
In 2002 there had been an attempt for a coup to dethrone Chavez following a few controversial decisions he made to fortify the grasp of the government over the country’s oil company PDVSA and to force tighter regulation of the real estate market. But the mutineers had fucked up… and the coup had been lamely wilted.
But even though this stratagem had failed miserably and Chavez regained control after less than scant two days, he had learned a valuable lesson from this curt rebellion. Chavez fathomed what a vital role the media plays in this game of thrones, and how it could be his bitter bane.
Thus, the Lieutenant Colonel inferred that the media should be furthermore controlled and leashed. Yay!
And so, in 2003 Venezuela greeted with a big rueful hola the “Law on Social Responsibility in Radio and Television” (Ley de Responsabilidad de Radio y Television), which had been principally vindicated as a strain to protect… the children! Who wouldn’t want to safeguard the kids from the evil materials of the media, right?
But inside this law, were shrouded a few additional constricting clauses that were particularly contrived to narrow the media’s competence to report unrestrictedly. For example, the law says reporters can’t transmit contents that will disrespect any official authority or that would disturb the public order.
You don’t have to be a democracy expert to realize that it’s totally fucked up.
How could a journalist recount a corruption affair, for instance, without being disrespectful if the basic foundation of the story would unavoidably derogate the regime’s respect? And how could a journalist unveil all sorts of scandals without disturbing the public order?
Jackson Diehl from the Washington Post has published an excellent column all the way back in 2005, discussing about some of the repercussions and the aftermath of the new law:
Some newspapers and television stations openly sided with attempts to oust the president via coup, strike or a national referendum. Having survived all three, a strengthened Chavez is moving to eliminate critical journalists and create in Venezuela the kind of state-controlled media environment in which a minister of information such as Izarra is all-powerful.
Nearly five years after the failed coup, Chavez took his anti-democratic vendetta against one of Venezuela’s oldest TV station, Radio Caracas Television (RCTV). Chavez declared that the station’s license was revoked and its channel frequency has been given to another station, not surprisingly controlled by the state.
Unfortunately, RCTV was hardly the last media company targeted by the Chavez regime. I guess that censorship for honchos is pretty much like heroin for junkies, one little taste and you’re hooked.
It was a very sunny day in August 2009 when the Venezuelan government announced on the massive closure of 34 radio stations and 2 TV stations, all of which had carried an opposition orientation to Chavez leadership. The government’s message for all other broadcast media companies was quite clear: Criticize us and we’ll cut your balls off. And you know how most people are attached to their balls.
But some TV stations remained valiant and kept broadcasting harsh commentary about Chavez and other political leaders from his party. The result? Six cable TV channels were swiftly banished from the country’s transmission program in a matter of a few months.
In 2010, Chavez finally comprehend that it’s not the TV and definitely not the radio he should be concerned about, but this World Wide Web thing everyone is roaming so freely. “The Internet cannot be something open where anything is said and done,” groused Chavez, “every country has to apply its own rules and norms.”
Granted, it’s hard to imbue your subjective agendas when everything is open and people could express their own thoughts and opinions… someone just might whisper how fucking ludicrous your ideas are!
It didn’t take long for Chavez to “fix” this web problem and at the end of 2010 he appended the Internet into the already-polemical law from 2003. This time the pretext for the amendments was that they would protect… the children! Who wouldn’t want to safeguard the kids from the evil materials of the Internet, right?
Auspiciously enough, it doesn’t seem that Chavez had managed to effectuate a large-scale Internet filtering so far, although there were at least a few reports of selective chastisements against “renegade” websites such as El Diario de Cuba and La Patilla.
Perhaps Hugo Chavez wasn’t 100% pure malice as some attempt to depict him (let’s settle for 99%?) and he assuredly wasn’t the flawless angel as his zealous supporters affirm (go see a shrink). When someone perishes it’s never a reason for neither celebration nor joy… but yet it’s an opportunity to glance at a new road, an improved road, a free road up ahead.
Hugo Chavez has died… and all his censorship schemes should die with him. The Venezuelans certainly deserve better.