Caracas, June 22, 2004—Venezuela’s Vice-President José Vicente Rangel told the media yesterday that the government and the private media would hold talks in order to achieve a greater balance in the media’s reporting and to reduce tensions between the government and the private media.
Rangel said that “a phase of dialogue will begin because among the agreement we signed with the opposition last year, we indicated that an informational equilibrium is very important and the way we enter into an electoral process is an important condition…”
Also yesterday, the Carter Center’s representative in Venezuela, Francisco Diez, confirmed that the government-private media dialogue would be facilitated by the Carter Center. The objective would be to create a climate free of conflict and violence in the time remaining before the August 15 presidential recall referendum.
Diez also told the news agency Reuters that the negotiation expert William Ury would be coming to Venezuela this week to help with the discussions. William Ury is director of Harvard University’s Project on Negotiation, he is the author of several books on negotiation and conflict resolution, and has had experience mediating conflicts in many different parts of the world, such as Sudan and Ethiopia. Ury will first meet separately with the directors of various media outlets and then with the president, to determine an agenda for the discussions.
Ever since Hugo Chavez was first elected as president, Venezuela’s private media have taken a strong oppositional role, going so far as to displace the traditional opposition parties in the political system, according to many political scientists. During the April 2002 coup attempt the four major private television stations took an active role in supporting the failed coup.
Representatives of the opposition parties had mixed reactions to the proposed dialogue between media and government. Felipe Mujica, one of the opposition coalition’s spokespersons, said, “dialogue in Venezuela is a fact and should be an example for all pro-government institutions to follow.”
Others, such as Alejandro Armas, of the party Solidarity, however, reacted negatively, saying that any dialogue with pro-Chavez forces could only be held after Chavez leaves office because, “it is not possible to have conversations between a president with such an intolerant nature and an opposition that accuses the government of being corrupt.”
Media magnate Gustavo Cisneros holds talks with Chavez
In a surprise move, information leaked to the press over the past weekend that Venezuelan media magnate Gustavo Cisneros, who owns one of Venezuela’s largest television channels, Venevision, as well as the US Spanish-language network Univision, held a meeting with President Chavez that was arranged by former US President Jimmy Carter.
According to the leaked news reports about the meeting, Chavez and Cisneros had agreed on the need to organize a national dialogue between pro-Chavez and anti-Chavez forces to, “fight poverty and to enhance health, education, and economic opportunities in Venezuela,” according to a statement released by the Carter Center. The Carter Center statement also said that, “There was a mutual commitment to honor constitutional processes and to support further discussions between the government of Venezuela and the country’s news media to ensure the most appropriate climate for this constitutional process.”
On Sunday, during his weekly television program “Aló Presidente,” Chavez admitted to the meeting, but denied that it was of much importance. He asked rhetorically, “What would change? [the meeting] will not change anything at all, neither the constitution, nor the project are negotiable, in this meeting nor in any other… There will be no pacts under the table.”