Today we celebrate the national day of journalists in Venezuela. Because of this day, it’s worth remembering a phrase that was written in the streets of Argentina during the December 2001 crisis: “They piss on us and the press says it’s raining”. This aphorism captions the situation of the social media today. Readers are reading, listening, or watching the information they receive more and more carefully.
However, the people of Venezuela have gone beyond that. Thanks to legal, technological, technical, and educational support from the government of the president, Hugo Chavez, and because of the determination of citizens after 2000, a national system of community and alternative media started to be born. It’s a system which, even though it has a long way to go, is a symbol of collective organisation and the satisfying of everybody’s right to communicate.
So, today from 10am, alternative and community media will march from Venezuela Plaza to Llaguno bridge in support of collective organisation, grassroots communication, president Chavez’s project, and against media manipulation.
Vindicating the people’s struggles
The director of alternative and community media with the communications ministry, Reinaldo Escorcia, explained that “popular (grassroots) communication, a name we give to the non-profit community and alternative media, is what is happening in the hearts of the communities to promote social organisation and historical and cultural heritage in the geographic space where it’s being developed”.
The civil servant said that this type of communication aims to vindicate the struggles of the people and strengthen popular power. “A fundamental characteristic of this media is that they have a direct relationship with the people. Further, they promote the creation of the content with the listeners through regular community assemblies,” he said.
The general coordinator of the Community Foundation Burate Arriba, in Bocono, Trujillo state, and communicator with Radio Libertad 99.3 FM in that area, Valentia Blanco, believes “popular communication came out of the need to give the communities a voice so that they could practice their right to communicate... it was necessary to counter the private media which doesn’t transmit correct or opportune information”.
Before, they were persecuted
Escorcia considers the 2002 Regulation of Radio Difusion and Community Open Television for Public Service and Non Profit a landmark in popular communication: “That was the first tool that gave those types of media legality. From that moment popular communication began to grow”.
He said that, even though popular communication existed during the Fourth Republic governments, it was persecuted.
One of the founders of Catia TV, Leafar Guevara, agreed on that point: “Community media at that time was illegal”. She commented that that through such media the possibility to show the struggles and achievements of communities was opened up.
The director of Radio National Venezuela (RNV) and member of the Necesary Journalism Movement, Helena Salcedo, has a similar opinion: “Community journalists were persecuted under the ‘freedom’ of the Fourth Republic. At that time information was totally hijacked”.
Escorcia said that from 2002 growth of popular media has been blooming. According to ministry of communication statistics, between that year and 2009, over 200 radio and television operators around Venezuela went to air.
In that regard, the current list of popular media that the National Telecommunication Commission has on its website includes 244 radio stations and 36 television stations. Of those, the greatest number of radio stations are in Zulia state, with 26, followed by Merida wtih 21, and Lara with 19. In television, the states with more alternative and community channels are Aragua and Tachira, with 5, followed by Zulia and Miranda with 3.
Regarding printed and digital media, the ministry civil servant said that there are currently more than 2015 print publications, and around 80 digital ones. “Promotion of popular media is important because its spokespeople are the ones who are closest to the people”.
Salcedo believes that, thanks to the support of the Bolivarian government and to popular initiative, growth of this new form of journalism has allowed for freer and more plural communication to advance. “That’s democratisation of communication ... popular media practices revolutionary and transformative action in communities so that the people can discuss not just their problems, but also solutions”.
An autonomous movement
On the support provided by the Bolivarian government to the popular media, Escorcia pointed out its technical, technological, and educational support. “The state is a companion in this process. The movement is autonomous and its respected as such”. He explained that spokespeople of the popular media in each [regional] state meet and work together.
“We’re very excited because we’re joining together around the country. The regional assemblies we’re holding are very interesting because they allow us to find each other,” said Blanco.
Guevara said that popular communicators have been constantly training in order to produce quality work. “There’s an incipient growth thanks to the Bolivarian revolution that has opened up the radio-electric space and has supported the communication initiatives of the people”.
A story that began with war
The national day of the journalist is celebrated each year on 27 June in commemoration of the date when the Correo del Orinco first began to circulate in 1818. The Correo was a newspaper created by the Republicans during the War of Independence to spread information about the cause, and to counter the Gazeta de Caracas, the Royalist publication.
According to the Venezuelan News Agency (AVN), the Correo del Orinoco published decrees, proclamations, and news that the patriots wanted to circulate in support of their cause. 128 editions were published since that first one until the last one on 23 March 1822.
In 1964, the now dead politician and editor of Diario Vea [a left wing newspaper] Guillermo Garcia Ponce, at the time a member of parliament for the Communist Party, proposed, from the San Carlos Barracks in Caracas (where he was prisoner, accused of military rebellion), that the National Day of the Journalist be celebrated the same day that the Correo del Orinoco came out for the first time. Thanks to his initiative the date is celebrated, AVN summarised.
Extra notes: yesterday's march
Yesterday's march presented a document by the National Command of Popular Communication. which rejected media terrorism and warned that if the capitalist media breaks the law or in any way supports another coup, it will be taken over by the people. It also supported the “unity of alternative communicators”.
The document also included proposals for the Government Plan 2013-2019, which is currently under general discussion, and for the Popular Communication Law, under discussion in the national assembly.
The National Command consists of spokespeople elected in region assemblies by alternative and community media workers and collaborators.
Translation and extra notes by Tamara Pearson for Venezuelanalysis.com.