On May 29, 2009, Reporters Without Borders (RWB) published an open letter to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in which the organization denounced the government's actions against Globovisión, a "privately-owned news channel", alleging it was being "hounded by the government and the administration." According to the Paris-based organization, Globovisión was being "targeted by official proceedings that could lead to it being taken off air for 72 hours" for "quoting statistics provided by the US Geological Survey"1 while reporting on the May 4, 2009 earthquake.1 Venezuelan authorities are accusing the channel of "violating Article 29 of the Law of Social Responsibility in Radio and Television (Ley RESORTE), which sanctions media outlets that ‘promote, justify or incite war; promote, justify or incite disruption of public order.'" RWB asks: "In what way does reporting on an earthquake, however poorly, fit within this definition of an offense?"2 Presented in this way, the matter might shock international public opinion. However, contrary to what RWB asserts, the reality is different and has been carefully avoided by the French organization for "the defense of press freedoms."
Globovisión vs democracy
Since 1998, Globovisión has relentlessly opposed the democratic government of Hugo Chavez. In April of 2002, the broadcast network actively participated in the coup d'état by Pedro Carmona Estanga. In any other country in the world, Globovisión would have been closed and its leaders sentenced to long prison sentences. But the Supreme Court, controlled at that time by the opposition, refused to recognize the coup and explained the overthrow as merely a "power vacuum."
Since then, the channel has multiplied its calls to insurrection.3 In May of 2007, Globovisión encouraged the murder of President Chavez by manipulating images and sending subliminal messages. On the program Aló,Ciudadano, Marcel Granier, the director of another channel that strongly criticizes Chavez, RCTV, was interviewed while simultaneously displaying images of the attempted assassination of Pope John Paul II in May 1981. Globovisión could not explain why it broadcast images of the attempted assassination during a program dealing with the non-renewal of RCTV's license.4 Several semiotic experts were categorical about the incident: "It urged the murder of the President."5 In France, such actions would have resulted in the incarceration of the reporters as well as the company's owners.
Globovisión's journalists and newscasters also amplified their defamatory rhetoric towards the government using words like "dictatorship" and "tyranny" to justify calls for civic disobedience and acts of violence, something that would be unimaginable in the West.6
The case of the earthquake
At 4:40 am on the morning of May 4, 2009 an earthquake struck the Venezuelan state of Miranda, followed by three aftershocks (at 4: 50 am, 6:23 am and 6:24 am), without causing injuries. At 5:25 am, Interior and Justice Minister Tarek El Aissami announced that the earthquake had been felt in several locations. "We are receiving reports of the effects. We are, through Funvisis, determining the epicenter and magnitude. We want to make clear that, so far, we have no reports of any material or structural damage. We want to call for calm. There is an order for an immediate deployment of patrols to protect people who have fled their houses," he said. At 5:44 am, El Aissami gave a second report declaring that he had met with the President and with Vice-President Ramon Carrizález, and emphasized that Chavez had ordered the deployment of the Bolivarian National Guard to guarantee public security. 7
Meanwhile, at 5:40 am, Funvisis President Francisco Garcés announced that two earthquakes had struck the capital, Caracas, as well as the entire metropolitan area, and requested that the media make announcements asking the public to remain calm . At 6:05 am, Public Works and Housing Minister Diosdado Cabello indicated that the metro, the railroad and the airport were all functioning perfectly. Education Minister Héctor Navarro also emphasized that schools and universities had not been affected by the earthquake and were open. Health Minister Jesus Mantilla announced that the country's hospitals were working normally. At 6:47 am, Telecommunications and Information Minister Socorro Hernandez informed the public that the telecommunications system was unaffected. Likewise, Hidrocapital President Alexander Hitcher explained that the water system was working normally. At 7 am, Communication and Information Minister Blanca Ekhout indicated that all government institutions had been in a state of alert since the beginning of the earthquake. Jacqueline Faría, the head of government for the federal district, as well as Rafael Ramirez, Minister of Energy and Petroleum, kept the public informed about their respective responsibilities. 8
Nevertheless, at 5:20 am in the morning, in other words barely 40 minutes after the first telluric shock, the director of Globovisión, Alberto Federico Ravel, hurriedly and personally intervened live on his TV station – after providing wrong information on the epicenter of the earthquake based on information coming from…the United States – to directly attack the government, accusing it of carelessnessly transmitting a message of fear and terror. "It really distresses us but we can not find anyone in authority from whom to request precise information, exact information […]. All we can do is be patient, be very patient waiting for our authorities to inform us, to give us precise information, give us true information of what is happening at this moment because we do not have anyone to go to. We called Funvisis but we lost the connection. We have not been able to communicate with the firefighters. Mayor [Gerald] Blay is not reporting if there are damages in his region." 9 At that point in the conversation, the Globovisión newscaster interrupted his director to remind him of a fact. "Director, we just had a phone call, again, with the director of Funvisis and he informed us that he is driving right now and because of that it has been impossible for him to contact us. Nevertheless, he reiterated to us that as soon as he stops driving he will contact us and we will be able to go on air live with him to provide better information."10
Instead of accepting the suggestion as reasonable, Ravel took advantage of the opportunity to again stigmatize the government authorities: "At this moment those official sources who provide so much propaganda ought to be informing the public about what is happening, rather than us having to go to the U.S. meteorological service to inform the people that there has been an earthquake." 11
Tarek El Assaimi denounced "the small-minded attitude and irresponsible use of the mass media." Ravel, instead of transmitting a message of calm, used a natural catastrophe for political ends and "to plant fear among the people," according to Diosdado Cabello.12 What would happen in France if the director of the private channel TF1 had attacked the government of Nicholas Sarkozy with the same virulence forty minutes after the beginning of the 2008 floods, accusing it of having abandoned the victims to their luck?
Of course, RWB carefully criticized the situation, trying to turn a serious violation of journalistic ethics and a grave lack of media responsibility into a violation of press freedoms. In reference to the 2002 coup d'état, the Paris-based organization recognizes that "Legal proceedings, along with debate about the approach of some privately owned media during these events, were not without cause at the time." But RWB ignores the continuous and illegal actions of Globovisión when it asks: "But now, what is the accusation based on when more than seven years have passed since those events?13
Lastly, RWB writes to Chávez, "Globovisión is the sole broadcast media with a voice strongly critical of your government. Never in other Latin American countries, where your counterparts have faced a hostile, or considered to be hostile, media has the state response taken such an extreme form. Never has the leader's lone voice so dominated almost the entire television sector." Here the lie is triple: the organization Robert Ménard presides over tries to make believe that the actions of Globovisión are something common in Latin America, that the government of Chavez attacks the channel because it broadcasts criticisms against him, and that the country's other TV broadcasters take orders form the Venezuelan leader.14
Once again, it is easy to contradict the assertions of RWB. On the one hand, no Latin American media outlet has called for the overthrow of an elected president in the way that Globovisión has done. On the other hand, it is enough to watch the private stations, which represent more than 80% of Venezuelan media, to realize that criticism against the government is acerbic and constant. Finally, any serious analyst knows for certain that no country on the American continent can boast of having freedom of expression and press similar to that of Venezuela. Thus, from the RWB perspective, media outlets must incite insurrection and the overthrow of the established order, as Globovisión does, in order to not be considered lackeys of the powers-that-be.
Ever since Hugo Chavez was elected president of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, Reporters Without Borders has taken the side of the anti-democratic, coup-plotting opposition and has continued to defend their interests internationally. In fact, during the coup d'état of April 11, 2002, RWB did not denounce the leading role played by the private media, which was opposed to the democratically elected president. Worse still, on April 12, 2002, RWB published an article that rampantly spread the coup-plotter's version of the events in an attempt to convince international public opinion that Chavez had resigned:
"Shut in the presidential palace, Hugo Chavez signed his resignation during the night under pressure from the army. Later he was taken to Fort Tiuna, the main military base in Caracas, where he is detained. Immediately afterwards, Pedro Carmona, the president of Fedecámaras, announced that he would lead a new government of transition. He affirmed that his appointment was the result of a `consensus' among Venezuelan civil society and the Armed Forces command."15
RWB is not an organization that defends press freedoms, but rather it is an obscure entity with a very precise political agenda tasked with discrediting, by whatever means necessary, those progressive governments worldwide who are on the United States' black list. This is not surprising when one learns that RWB is substantially financed by Washington through the National Endowment for Democracy, a front organization for the CIA, according to the New York Times.16
(Translated by David Brookbank)
1Reporters Without Borders, « Acharnement gouvernemental contre la chaîne Globovisión : lettre ouverte au Président Hugo Chávez », May 29, 2009. http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=31466
(website consulted on June 2, 2009).
3Agencia Bolivaria de Noticias, « Periodistas coinciden en que Globovisión es promotor de protestas de oposición », May 29, 2007.
4Agencia Bolivaria de Noticias, « Ministro Lara denunció que medios de oposición incitan a magnicidio », May 27, 2007.
5Agencia Bolivaria de Noticias, « CNN miente sobre Venezuela y Globovisión incita al magnicidio », May 28, 2007.
6Agencia Bolivaria de Noticias, « Globovisión continúa con la instigación a la desestabilización », May 29, 2007.
7 Luigino Bracci Roa, « Fuerte temblor sacudió región central del país esta madrugada sin causar daños », Yvke Mundial,May 4, 2009. http://www.radiomundial.com.ve/yvke/noticia.php?23910
(website consulted on June 15, 2009).
9Globovisión, « ¿Quién sintio el temblor primero? ¿Los chavistas o los opositores? », May 4, 2009. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TwC0pLR-ajQ (website consulted on June 15, 2009).
13Reporters Without Borders,« Acharnement gouvernemental contre la chaîne Globovisión : lettre ouverte au Président Hugo Chávez », op. cit.
15Reporters Without Borders,« Un journaliste a été tué, trois autres ont été blessés et cinq chaînes de télévision brièvement suspendues », 12 avril 2002. www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=1109
(website consulted on November 13, 2006).
16 Salim Lamrani, Cuba. Ce que les médias ne vous diront jamais (Paris : Editions Estrella, 2009).
Salim Lamrani is a professor at Paris Descartes University and Paris-Est Marne-la-Vallée University and French journalist, specialist on relations between Cuba and the US. He has just published Doble Moral. Cuba, la Unión Europea y los derechos humanos, [Double Standards. Cuba, the European Union and Human Rights]; (Hondarribia: Editorial Hiru, 2008).