Venezuelan Media Terrorism Conference Denounces Negative Role of Private Media

Journalists, communications specialists, and other participants in the Latin American Meeting against Media Terrorism in Caracas last weekend demanded that political leaders in the region put the issue of media terrorism on the agenda of all international forums and meetings in which they participate.

Mérida, March 31, 2008 ( Journalists, communications specialists, and other participants in the Latin American Meeting against Media Terrorism in Caracas last weekend demanded that political leaders in the region put the issue of media terrorism on the agenda of all international forums and meetings in which they participate, according to the "Caracas Declaration," the final collection of the resolutions produced at the conference.

Endorsed by participants from 14 countries, the Caracas Declaration denounces the role of the private media in the toppling of democratic governments across the region, and asserts that "media terrorism is the first expression and necessary condition of military terrorism that the industrialized North employs in order to impose its imperial hegemony and neo-colonial dominion on humanity."

Information should be conceived as a right to be collectively provided, rather than as merchandise or a commodity to be sold, conference participants resolved, iterating a collective commitment to the "ethical exercising of our profession, devoted to the values of real and effective democracy, and to the veracity that is deserved by the diversity of thought, belief, and culture."

A wave of international journalists at the meeting shared the vision of Puerto Rican journalist Nelson del Castillo for a strengthened network of professional press correspondents across Latin America who actively counteract media terror, so as not "to depend simply on the good will" of committed activists in the shadow of private media that "favor the empire."

Consistent with the general emphasis on Latin American unity, Ecuadoran Legislator María Augusta Calle expressed that "the continent demands unity and the strengthening of communicational organizations to offset the lies." Calle advocated that "real perspectives" be emphasized, adding that "the media war is not only against Chávez, but also against the Bolivarian Revolution and all the peoples of America".

The National Association of Free, Alternative, Communitarian Media (ANMCLA) expressed solidarity with the government but also proposed deep changes in the current communicational order. In a document published on the first day of last weekend's events, the organization said that Venezuela's Telecommunications Law, which was written by the National Telecommunications Commission (CONATEL) and passed at the beginning of Chávez's term in the year 2000, relegates alternative media to an unacceptably marginal status.

As a solution to this problem, ANMCLA proposed changing the Telecommunications Law so that a "public system of communication, not state-run and not private, in the hands of popular communities, forms a structural part" of national communications.

Also, 33.3% of the radio and television frequencies in Venezuela and a third of the government's publicity budget should be conceded to community-based and alternative media, with the other two thirds divided equally between state-controlled and private media, ANMCLA advocated.

Finally, ANMCLA said a new tax should be levied on private media that would help pay for the expansion of alternative media. It also declared that the means of communication should be managed by an assembly of local community representatives, rather than a few government functionaries.

At the same time, ANMCLA categorically rejected the presence in Venezuela of the Inter-American Press Association (IAPA), which held its conference in Caracas last weekend as well.  

The final report of the IAPA conference condemned the government of Venezuela for its "constant intimidating threats" and violations of the "human rights of journalists." It accused President Chávez of "imposing" restrictions on freedom of expression by "legislating by decree," referring to the Enabling Law passed in 2007 by the National Assembly which, according to the constitution, permits the president to pass laws by decree for 18 months. The IAPA demanded that Chávez cease the "hostility" toward the private media, and stop threatening to close media outlets, emphasizing that "freedom of expression should take precedence over political and ideological interests."

According to ANMCLA, the IAPA is "an organism of the oligarchy, tool of the hegemonic project of capitalism which hides the oligarchic and transnational concentration of the largest means of communication on the continent behind the façade of the defense of freedom of expression."

Many participants in the meeting against media terrorism postulated that the IAPA has an intensely ideological project to support the interests of big business worldwide. "In many countries the owners of the media are also property holders in large banks…some pertain to the military industrial complex," asserted the director of the Bolivarian News Agency (ABN), Freddy Fernández, a principal organizer of the weekend's events.

Over the last few decades, these large media owners, who now make up the leadership of the IAPA, "did not talk about democracy, they talked about the ‘free world,' and in the ‘free world' there was Pinochet, Videla, and all the dictators of the continent," Fernández told reporters over the weekend, referring to IAPA's long history of support murderous Latin American dictators since the organization was founded in 1943 in Havana, during the reign of the U.S.-backed Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista.

Community Media Event

While the meeting against media terrorism was going on in Caracas, CONATEL hosted a "Bolivarian Forum" for over 30 alternative community media outlets in the western state of Trujillo aimed at assessing the progress of community media and strengthening the capacity of these outlets to serve the needs of their communities.

Héctor Reyes, the director of technological assistance to local media, said the goal of the forum was "to achieve a mutual commitment between the institution and the community media."  

A second community media forum in Trujillo is planned for later this year in order to discuss changes to the Telecommunications Law and the Law on Social Responsibility in Radio and Television, as well as a march for this cause organized by ANMCLA.