Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez announced last week that his government will soon possess 48% of the stock of the opposition television station Globovision, entitling it to appoint a government member to the private channel’s board of directors.
In recent years, Globovision has become the leading political voice for the anti-Chavez movement.
As expected, news of the government’s incorporation in the conservative television station has caused a stir in the international press. Private media outlets around the world are selling the development as an attempt by the Venezuelan government to alter the editorial content of the station and thereby silence dissent in the country.
But, as is the norm with international reporting on Venezuela, the media’s spin on events and the reality of the situation do not match up.
The fact that the government will be appointing a representative to the board of directors of Globovision is, at least in part, a direct legal result of the corruption and criminal activity of one of the station’s wealthy corporate executives.
Nelson Mezerhane, former owner of the now defunct Banco Federal in Venezuela, fled the country after violating multiple banking laws, leaving his bank’s clients and their savings in limbo. The government was forced to intervene in the bank in order to protect customers’ deposits and Mezerhane’s assets have been seized. Among those assets is a 25.8% stake in Globovision. Another 20% of the stock that the government will assume is the result of the death of Luis Nuñez, former co-founder of Globovision.
Because public media concessions are not inheritable property according to Venezuelan law, Nuñez’s stake in Globovision will return to the state.
These two events form the legal basis for the government’s incorporation in the private station. Yet, despite the ostensibly legitimate actions being taken by the government, accusations of a clamp down on freedom of speech in Venezuela persist as corporate media conglomerates use the situation to foster the perception that the country is under the mandate of a power-hungry “dictator” bent on eliminating critics.
MANIPULATION AND DISTORTION
International reports labeling Globovision as the “last opposition broadcast television station remaining” in Venezuela create the false impression that voices critical of the government are somehow being silenced. The reality is quite the opposite, however, as the vast majority of print and radio media in Venezuela continue to be dominated by the country’s conservative opposition while multiple private broadcast television stations present critical perspectives regularly.
Stations such as Venevision and Televen often cover opposition political events during news broadcasts and provide the viewing public with dissenting opinions during talk show programs. The difference between the aforementioned television stations and Globovision is that Venevision and Televen present their criticisms responsibly, in a fashion that maintains some semblance of democracy and balance in programming.
Globovision, on the other hand, is as strident in its hatred for the government as it is manipulative in the information that it presents to the Venezuelan public. Although the private station is currently being hoisted up by international media outlets and right-wing NGOs as a posterchild for democracy and freedom, the channel’s history of sowing panic and fear in the population tells a different story.
Perhaps the best example of Globovision’s anti-democratic character is that of the failed coup d’etat carried out against the popularly elected government of Hugo Chavez in April 2002.
The private media in Venezuela, including Globovision, actively colluded with opposition political groups and business leaders to orchestrate the build up to and the execution of the violent coup which left 17 civilians dead and caused widespread panic throughout the country.
Globovision alongside other private television stations manipulated video images during the coup, repeating ad infinito the outright lie that government supporters had fired upon nnocent demonstrators, thereby justifying the coup.
Notwithstanding subsequent investigations that have proven the mendacity of the private media’s claims, Globovision’s President, Guillermo Zuloaga, has continued to repeat this patently false version of events surrounding the coup d’etat and has publicly lamented the fact that the coup was a failure.
Zuloaga recently fled Venezuela after being indicted for the hoarding of 17 luxury vehicles on his Caracas estate. He remains a fugitive from Venezuelan justice, taking refuge in the United States.
From December 2002 – February 2003, Globovision and the private media played the role of cheerleaders for a management lock-out of the oil industry which caused widespread hardship for the population and crippled the country’s economy for months. The lockout was a decidedly political act with the sole purpose of bringing down the government of Hugo Chavez.
On October 13, 2008, continuing with its virulent anti-Chavez line, Globovision invited Rafael Poleo, the owner of the opposition newspaper Un Nuevo Tiempo, to appear on the talk show “Alo Ciudadano” where he publicly stated that President Chavez, “needs to be careful not to end up like Mussolini with his head hanging upside down”.
In May of 2009, Globovision’s director, Alberto Ravell, used unofficial and alarmist information regarding an earthquake near Caracas to launch politically motivated attacks against the Venezuelan government before the latter had provided the public with verifiable information regarding the situation.
Venezuela’s penal code rightfully prohibits domestic media outlets from using panic and violence to incite the population, acts which Globovision has clearly committed to the point of subversion in its efforts to bring down the democratically elected government of Hugo Chavez.
If, in the United States, a private television station broadcasting over public airwaves engaged in violent and inciting acts with the purpose of overthrowing the elected government of Barack Obama, that station would undoubtedly be eliminated. In fact, as Noam Chomsky has reminded us when writing on the topic, subversion in the United States is punishable by death.
Yet, the anti-democratic principles which underpin Globovision’s complete lack of journalistic standards are the same that are being defended by international media conglomerates and foreign “human rights” organizations as they come to the rescue of the private station and its cabal of corporate executives. Such a defense is indicative of the interests that these groups represent, interests that have nothing to do with freedom of speech.
Over the years, corporate media outlets have made an art form out of misinforming the international community regarding current affairs in Venezuela. The recent situation pertaining to Globovision is not an exception. Inaccurate coverage continues to distort the reality on the ground, depriving the international public of the information it deserves and needs to make an educated assessment of the democratic changes underway in the country.