Monday, May 28, 2007

Hugo Chavez and the Bloodless Murder of Free Speech in Venezuela

Update 5/29/07 BBC News reports that Chaves is moving to shut down another station, Globalvision, for inciting violence against him--and he is also suing CNN for "allegedly linking Mr Chavez to al-Qaeda." Globalvision is probably under attack because it aired footage of protests against the closing of RTC. The protests against Chavez's actions continue.

Coming across the headline Venezuela replaces opposition TV with state network I got very, very worried. And we all should be. Apparently, Hugo Chavez, the democratically elected leader of the people of Venezuela, has shut down Radio Caracas Television (RCTV), the 53-year old network that has been the only voice in opposition to Chavez...

who seems to have forgotten that he got into power from a democratic process and a free press....(or maybe that's exactly what he fears...)

Not everyone thinks Chavez's actions are so grand: 70-80 percent of the people oppose Chavez's unilateral decision to shut down the station.

And I am horrified by the rhetoric coming from the Chavez regime--which cites a lack of "journalistic ethics" as one of the reasons for shutting RCTV down.

Isn't that an easy thing to claim nowadays?

It's not just Chavez's actions, and rhetoric, that horrify me, but also the way our venerable press--the New York Times--has downplayed the incident with the headline Chavez Launches New Venezuelan TV Station

WTF??? Apparently, shutting down the only opposition TV station in Venezuela is nothing more than the launching of a new TV station...makes it sound like Rupert Murdoch just launched an new movie channel or something.

The Times story reads differently (surprise, surprise) and gives very good details regarding what Chavez has done. But the headline minimizes Chavez's decision--and that there has been significant public outcry opposing his decision.

We here in the U.S., and in the blogosphere, should take note of this. We must be ever vigilant to those who want to channel or censor and what we are doing because they are "concerned" about "ethics" out here, and what they view as "echo chambers" out to damage our democracy. Most of the criticism comes from outsiders who know little about how blogging funcitons--the mechanisms of credibility and conversation, which differ from the hidebound "ethical standards" of journalism that may approve of misleading headlines like that in the NYTimes--and cannot host any conversation to discuss or debate how those headlines mislead and minimize a serious consequence to the free speech of a people in a formerly democratic country.

Will some people in Venezuela turn to blogs? Possibly. But there's loads of rhetoric to help Chavez shut down blogs, too. Chavez can simply turn to the rhetoric of American media pundits for justificiation: blogs are "echo chambers" and have no "journalistic ethics." Chavez can also turn to media pundits if he wants to shut down the press in Venezuela--after all, who needs "dead tree media" anymore anyway?? People can simply get the filtered, government approved messages from state run TV or state run online media outlets...which, if Chavez has taken notes on how to manufacture "astroturf" could be easily made to look like the voice of the people...

Oh, Chavez may not have struck at online just yet--but if he's shut down the last oppostion TV station, you can bet that online media (just as much as the printed press) will be the next to go.

And this is how you can make something very, very bad look like it's the best thing in the world to happen to free speech....

RCTV's official reaction to the shutdown:

And this is the demonstration against the shutdown:

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Pedro Morgado said...

Here, the Chav├ęz TV.

Tish Grier said...

wow! thanks for the link! will post!