Most consumers of the international media will be surprised to find that the controversy over
This is a big distinction, although the
These comments were not reported in the
RCTV has not laid off any of its 3000 employees, and may reach as much as half the population through its cable and satellite operations. But the station is now battling the government again, claiming that it should not be subject to government regulation – including the law, which pre-dates Chavez, that domestic stations carry the president’s speeches — because it is an international station. The government argues that RCTV is a domestic outlet because almost all of its production and audience are in
RCTV’s owner, Marcel Granier, is an opposition leader who seeks to de-legitimize the Venezuelan government. He has had some success in this effort, most importantly in April 2002 when his station faked film footage to make it look like pro-Chavez gunmen were shooting down demonstrators on the streets of
Granier’s most recent international organizing effort this year was also very successful. The international press glossed over RCTV’s various attempts to help overthrow the government, reporting the dispute as an issue of “press freedom,” and seemed unaware that such a TV station would not get a broadcast license in the
Granier is betting that the international media and other U.S.-dominated institutions will also frame his current battle as a “free speech” issue, rather than a legal dispute over whether his station is a national channel and hence subject to the same regulations as other Venezuelan cable stations. This is a good bet.
But then there is the Venezuelan reality, which is what Chavez and his government really care about. While most Americans and Europeans can be swayed by their one-sided media, Venezuelans get to hear both sides of this story. Venezuelans can turn on their TV and see extremely harsh criticism of their government every day. They can turn on their radio and find the airwaves actually dominated by anti-government “news” broadcasting. They can walk to a newsstand and find that most of the biggest newspapers are also dominated by anti-government reporting.
So Venezuelans know that there is no “free speech” problem in their country. While there are problems with the rule of law, including street crime – as throughout most of the region – Venezuelans have not suffered a loss of civil liberties under the Chavez government, as we have for example in the United States since 2001. That is one reason why Hugo Chavez was re-elected in December by the largest margin of the 12 most recent Latin American presidential elections, despite facing an opposition-dominated media. Democracy is indeed “very much in force in
Mark Weisbrot is Co-Director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, in