Rangel, who participated in the seminar’s final panel, noted that he has asked for evidence of news not being published in Venezuela because of government pressure at various international forums on freedom of the press. “No one has ever offered me any examples,” he said. The well-known journalist also called attention to the debates that are taking place throughout the region with regards to the role of media in democratic societies and the necessity that the media be independent not only of the government, but also of economic interests.
Speaking on Venezuela, Rangel stressed that “there are currently between 90 and 100 newspapers, of which 80 percent side with the political opposition. On radio, he said the situation was more pitched, stating, “Of AM radio stations, at least 400 broadcast the content of outlets that have assumed the role of directing the [political] opposition.”
The Problem of Media Power
Sociologist Maryclen Stelling indicated that the growing power of media in Venezuela is undeniable. “Venezuelan media outlets have stopped publishing information and have instead dedicated themselves to producing their own realities,” said Stelling, who also serves as the coordinator of Global Media Observatory in Venezuela.
“Some Venezuelan scholars speak of the creation of media parties,” she argued. Stelling also explained the dynamics of media and communications in Venezuela. “What has developed is an anchor between citizens and media outlets that reinforce their existing political opinions. It is a mechanism used to reinforce ideas they already have,” she said. “As such, the media has a dedicated audience that is politically and ideologically aligned but, on the whole, uninformed.”
The International Media
Martin Austermuhle, an advisor on communications issues in Washington, D.C., identified four negative frames that influence the coverage of Venezuela by U.S.-based media. Citing a number of academic studies, Austermuhle explained that three main U.S. newspapers, The Washington Post, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal broadly report on and reinforce the negative frames on Venezuela that serve as a basis for debates over U.S. policy towards the country.
He argued that these frames are perpetuated by a shortage of correspondents in the region and a lack of progressive sources to systematically work with the media.
The final panel of the seminar dealt with the issue of media power and democracy, and also included a presentation by the vice-president of the Venezuelan think tank IDEA, Miguel Ángel Pérez Pirela, who argued for the need to re-think the democratic opposition in Venezuela.
During the weekend’s seminar 26 academics and intellectuals from various parts of the world discussed issues of importance to the development of Venezuela’s democracy, from the possibility of reinventing socialism to the country’s existing model of participatory democracy and regional integration and security.
Participants recognized the advances of Venezuela’s democracy in terms of inclusion, social development (they cited the halving of poverty and 70 percent decrease in extreme poverty), the increase in community-based and alternative media, historic electoral participation, and the positive role Venezuela has plated in promoting regional integration and peace in Colombia.
They also insisted upon the challenges that face Venezuela’s democracy in its process of consolidation, such as the country’s bureaucracy, the need to deepen participation at the grassroots, the dependency on imports, and the attacks from conservative sectors around the world on the processes of democratization and change in the region.
The seminar took place in the context of Venezuela’s presidency of the Movement of New or Restored Democracies, which was granted to Venezuela in November 2009 and will last through 2012. The discussions and debates will be published in a book that will be given to participants of the movement’s VII International Conference, set to take place in Caracas in early 2011.
This report was written by the Permanent Mission of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela to the United Nations.