Mérida, August 31st 2010 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – 75.4% of televised campaign advertisements have been pro-opposition and 24.6% have been pro-government since the race for 165 seats in Venezuela’s National Assembly officially began last Thursday, according to a study by the National Electoral Council (CNE).
The CNE recorded the total amount of advertizing spots and their duration in seconds on the two major state-owned channels, VTV and TVES, and the four major channels controlled by private broadcasters, Globovision, Venevision, Televen, and Meridiano TV.
CNE President Tibisay Lucena announced the results of the study in a televised interview on Monday. She said when the ads were measured in seconds, pro-opposition ads accounted for 73.8% of the total, and pro-government ads accounted for 26.2%.
The opposition, which is grouped into a coalition called the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD), has used its media reach to convey the messages of landed estate owners such as Franklin Brito, who died on Monday in a hospital following a hunger strike to protest the government’s granting of land to landless peasants on the outskirts of his 500 hectare (1,235 acre) estate.
Brito said the government violated his right to private property, but the National Lands Institute (INTI) said it acted in accordance with the Land Law, which allows the government to transfer idle land to agricultural producers who occupy it. The Supreme Court declared Brito’s case to be without legal basis in 2007. The INTI helped Brito build new roads out of his estate and, as it has done in many other cases, offered technical assistance to help put his idle lands to productive use.
Brito had carried out previous hunger strikes, including one that lasted nearly four months, in front of the Organization of American States (OAS) last year. At one point he sewed his lips shut and cut off his own finger in front of cameras. He offered to end the strike if the government would pay him 3 million bolivars (US $698,000). After this was given front-page coverage in the opposition media and held up by the opposition as proof that the Chavez government violates private property, the government declared Brito psychologically ill and transferred him to an intensive care unit in a military hospital.
The opposition has also concentrated its media clout – and its electoral platform – on a campaign to blame the government for the country’s rising homicide rate. Pro-opposition news outlets print gory images of bleeding bodies on a daily basis. The New York Times claimed Venezuela’s homicide rate is worse than Iraq’s. On Saturday, more than a thousand opposition supporters marched through the streets of Caracas holding signs that said “No More Deaths” and “Socialism Brings Death.”
In response, the government highlighted its efforts to build a new National Police based on prevention rather than repression that will leave behind the culture of corruption and abuse of human rights for which Venezuela’s police have been notorious for decades. In 2006, the government carried out nation-wide consultations with state and local police and community groups, and produced a new police code of conduct and a police university.
Also based on the consultations, the National Statistics Institute (INE) created a newly designed survey called the National Survey of Victimization and Citizen Security. The most recent survey, reported by the newspaper El Nacional, showed that 19,113 people were murdered in Venezuela during the year 2009 – a four-fold increase since President Hugo Chavez took office ten years ago.
Initial deployments of the National Police in targeted high-crime areas in late 2009 reduced local homicide rates by as much as 60%, and the homicide rate for Caracas as a whole decreased by 19% over the first half of 2010.
In spite of this, the 2,300-strong National Police force remains deficient. The Justice Ministry says the nation needs 127,000 police officers to combat crime, but there are only 40,000 officers currently on duty in the 138 state and local police agencies across the country.
In direct response to the opposition’s intensified anti-crime media campaign recently, the government has stepped up its targeted security operations, placing 800 police officers on Caracas highways, 900 officers in the Caracas subway system, and opening avenues for citizens to report crime on Twitter and by telephone. Also, next week the National Assembly is expected to pass a new Law on Disarmament.
National Police Commissioner Luis Fernández said the privately-owned media have “invisibilized the work carried out by this police body, while they magnify situations that affect citizen security” in the scope of upcoming National Assembly election.
“Nobody can deny that there is work to be done on this multi-faceted problem… but the principal media outlets’ intention is not exactly to help,” said Fernández.
Several top government officials criticized the opposition’s use of grotesque photographs to send its message about crime. National Assembly President Cilia Flores called the practice “necrophilic.”
In his weekly Sunday opinion column, President Chavez confronted New York Times correspondent Simon Romero directly. “Last Monday they launched another missile from The New York Times, in tune with the internal campaign the Venezuelan private media have been planning regarding the insecurity issue,” Chavez wrote.
“Who dares to compare the magnitude of the violence in Iraq – generated by a genocidal invasion where the tears of survivors will never be enough to calm their grief – with the structural insecurity problem in Venezuela, which has been generated by the brutal inequalities that our government inherited and is strongly facing today with a preventive and not repressive strategy?” Chavez wrote.
The governing United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) also criticized the New York Times article, calling the comparison between Venezuela and Iraq “immoral” and “criminal.”
In a press conference, PSUV official Blanca Eekhout, who is also Communications Minister, said, “It is disgraceful that a country that has done so much damage could dare to trivialize the destruction of a country by comparing it with Venezuela in order to justify its aggressions.”
The PSUV currently controls nearly 100% of the National Assembly and is favored in most voter opinion polls. It hopes to mobilize its 7 million member base, the largest of any political party, and withhold at least two-thirds of the legislative body. The PSUV’s electoral campaign is based on the promise that improvements in public health, education, and food access, the advent of new mechanisms for local democratic participation, and the reduction of poverty will continue as the nation moves toward “21st Century Socialism.”