Venezuela: Reclaiming Media for the People

Recent moves by the Venezuelan government, which now claims almost 50% of the shares in a pro-coup TV station and revoked the concession of another, represent new steps towards reclaiming the media for the people.

The moves came as US-Venezuelan writer Eva Golinger revealed on July 15 in a Chavezcode.com post that recently declassified documents showed the US State Department has funded opposition media to the tune of more than US$4 million.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said on July 20 that the state now controlled 25.8% of the corporate TV station Globovision after taking over shares previously held by the owner of Banco Federal, Nelson Mezerhane.

Globovision is infamous for its strident opposition to Chavez, including taking part in a failed US-backed coup against his elected government in 2002.

Banco Federal was taken over due to a lack of liquidity and allegations of illegal money trading. A number of Mezerhane’s other business interests were also taken over, including the company that held the shares in Globovision.

Mezerhane fled Venezuela to avoid prosecution only days after Globovision President Guillermo Zuloaga did the same. Zuloaga’s arrest had been ordered over alleged irregularities with his car dealership.

Chavez said: “There is another 20% of Globovision shares up in the air, because when the state gave them a concession, it was for a person who is now dead. If someone receives a concession and dies, the state recuperates its concession.”

Together, this would give the state a 45.8% controlling share of Globovision. The government has stated its intentions to designate a new member on the board of directors to replace Mezerhane.

The same day, Chavez also announced that the state will revoke a concession granted to the Catholic Church’s Caracas Archdiocese to run Channel Five. This station was run by the state until just before Chavez’s election in 1998.

The decision to revoke the concession follows the Catholic Church ramping up its attacks against the government. As a result, the government is in the process reviewing relations with the Vatican.

Venezuela’s mainly Catholic poor majority overwhelmingly support Chavez, but church leaders have been vocal critics of his pro-poor policies.

Chavez said: “Here we have a situation where the Catholic hierarchy enjoys privileges under these agreements.”

He pointed out that this was the same “church hierarchy that lent itself to the coup [in 2002].”

“Let’s recuperate that channel in order to put it at the service of the people and not a cardinal.”

The pro-capitalist media has attempted to portray these moves by the Chavez government as the latest attempt to shutdown the “last remaining opposition media.”

But the reality is that corporate interests — those of the tiny rich elite — control more than 80% of radio and TV frequencies in Venezuela. Four media monopolies, the Cisneros group, 1BC, Camero and Zuloaga-Mezerhane, dominate the airwaves.

Their cries about “freedom of speech” are aimed at defending their large financial interests and media power which they have used to undermine the Chavez government and its project of “socialism of the 21st century.”

The Chavez government has realised it is necessary to break up this media monopoly and expand access to the media far beyond the hands of a few elites.

This was made evident after the corporate media played a key role in the 2002 coup that briefly ousted Chavez and replaced him with the head of Venezuela’s chamber of commerce.

Across the country, local alternative media began to sprout as people began to see the need to broadcast what was really happening. The government also moved to counteract the corporate media lies by launching a new channel, ViVe, in 2003.

The channel has been critical for giving a voice to social organisations and communities, helping to bring different community media outlets together.

It now has six regional offices which act as permanent schools for developing community media.

The 2004 Law of Social Responsibility in Radio and Television increased the amount of airtime set aside for national and independent producers, as well promoting alternative media and creating timeslots for children’s programming.

The same year, the government expanded the reach of state TV station VTV, National Radio of Venezuela (RNV) and ViVe, to ensure 90% coverage of the population.

To combat the international propaganda campaign against the Venezuelan revolution, the government launched a Latin America-wide station named Telesur in 2005. Based in Caracas, Telsur has grown to become a joint project with six other nations in the region.

In 2007, the government decided not to renew a concession granted 40 years ago to pro-coup media company RCTV. When the concession expired, the government opted to grant it to a new public channel, Tves, dedicated to the arts, culture and educational programs.

Despite these steps, the government still faces an overwhelmingly hostile press that constantly floods society with its capitalist ideology and values.

The US government also recognises the important role of the media in the campaign to undermine and defeat the Venezuelan revolution.

Declassified US State Department documents revealed more than $4 million in funding to journalists and the “private” media over the past three years.

Golinger said the declassified documents reveal more than 150 Venezuelan journalists were trained by US agencies and at least 25 websites were set up with US funding.

A number of programs have targeted youth and universities, as part of creating what the documents referred to as a “network of cyber-dissidents” against the Venezuelan government.

Three of the universities that have been focal points of anti-Chavez student protests have incorporated “courses on media studies into their curriculums, designed and funded by the State Department,” said Golinger.