Venezuelan revolution combats corporate media monopoly

By Marcus Pabian

The revolutionary socialist government of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez on July 9 proposed a reform to democratise the media and stop the corporate media endlessly campaigning to violently overthrow the elected government. “You can be certain that we will democratise the radio-electric spectrum and bring an end to large media estates in radio and television”, declared the public works and housing minister, Diosdado Cabello, who put forward the anti-monopoly reforms to the telecommunications law that will be voted on by the parliament in August.

The pro-capitalist opposition in Venezuela controls around 70% of the radio and TV channels and the majority of newspapers. Of 794 FM radio stations, 60% are privately owned, 30% are community stations and 10% are state-owned. Of 210 AM stations, 88% have private owners and 12% are state owned. Of 108 TV channels, 60% are privately owned, 35% are community run, and only 5% are owned by the state.

New media laws

On July 3, Cabello announced that the licenses for nearly 40% of privately-owned radio stations (86 AM and 154 FM) were being revoked for failing to re-register with Conatel, the national telecommunications commission. Chavez declared that these recovered frequencies should be used to create a “popular radio in the hands of the people”. The proposed laws will stop anyone owning more than three stations —  TV or radio or both —  breaking apart the six large privately owned networks currently dominating the industry. One of the networks concentrates 48 stations in the hands of one private owner. The proposed laws will bring most cable TV outlets with largely Venezuelan content, such as Radio Caracas Television (RCTV), under the same laws that govern free-to-air TV, forcing them to become regulated and carry national broadcasts by the government.

The Chavez government is also close to bringing an end to the broadcasting licence of the opposition-controlled TV station Globovision, denying it access to a free-to-air frequency, as the government did to another opposition-run station, RCTV, in May 2007. On June 16 Conatel informed Globovision that it was under investigation for breaking the law against “the use of the telecommunication services ... as a mean to collaborate in the commission of crimes”, for broadcasts during 2008 and 2009 in the programs Alo Ciudadano (Hello Citizen) and Noticias Globovision (Globovision News).

Commenting on the threat to remove its licence, Globovision’s lawyer Ana Cristina claimed, “The president [Chavez] is completely criminalising the free exercise of liberty of expression”. The US corporate media, such as the Miami Herald, Wall Street Journal and the Latin American Herald Tribune, have echoed Cristina’s claim. A June 19 Miami Herald editorial claimed: “President Hugo Chavez seems poised to take the final steps to silence the only remaining broadcast television station in the country that offers an independent voice of news and information.”

Writing from Caracas on July 9 for the Wall Street Journal, Darcy Crowe claimed: “Another media outlet that is being targeted by the government is the Globovision news channel, the last television network over public airwaves that is still openly critical of the government”. And Jeremy Morgan explained in the July 23 Latin American Herald Tribune that Globovision “does not shy away from reporting negative or critical news on Chavez and his government, and as a result is the target of numerous attacks by or on behalf of the government”.

Support for coup attempts

In order to present Chavez as suppressing freedom of expression, the corporate media dismiss the ceaseless seven-year campaign waged by the Venezuelan capitalist opposition through its media outlets to impose their capitalist politics on the majority of Venezuelans, who have continually rejected them in elections, by violently overthrowing the Chavez government. As Chavez pointed out on May 10, “Criticism is one thing, and conspiracy is another”. In October 2001 Chavez criticised Globovision for following the strategy of Josef Goebbels, Hitler’s propaganda minister, by “repeating a lie 100 times until it is true”. By deliberately inflating crime figures, Globovision had caused a wave of public panic at the time. Chavez said that Globovision was an “authentic enemy of the revolution” engaged in a “conspiracy against the country”.

In April 2002, the capitalist opposition overthrew the Chavez government in a business-military coup after the government tried to take control of the state oil company PDVSA away from its pro-capitalist managers to use its resources to meet the needs of Venezuela’s working people. Globovision and RCTV provided unlimited airtime to the coup leaders while running a blackout on any protests or criticism of the coup, as protesters were gunned down by pro-coup police. Within two days, Chavez was restored as president by an insurrection of hundreds of thousands of working people, including soldiers, who defied the military high command.

RCTV news director Andres Izzara quit over the station’s censorship of the pro-Chavez protests and is now the communications and information minister and president of Telesur, a state-run satellite media network. Commenting on the April coup, Izzara explained: “The fourth estate in our country has on many occasions become the first estate”, referring to the corporate media changing their role from supposed guardians of public interest to capitalist power brokers. Speaking live on Venevision (a private TV station) on the day of the coup — April 11 —  one of the coup leaders, Vice-Admiral Victor Ramirez, declared that he possessed a deadly weapon — the mass media.

Shortly after the coup, in December 2002, the opposition launched an economic crisis by coordinating a national business shutdown with a lock-out by the pro-capitalist managers of PDVSA, who sabotaged the oil industry, reducing production from 3 million to 150,000 barrels per day. The bosses’ strike was backed by Globovision and RCTV. The opposition aimed to deny the government funds, hoping the economic hardship would turn masses of people against the government and provide the opposition a second chance to overthrow Chavez. This too failed. More than 2 million working people poured into the streets of Caracas to protest against the move, and oil production workers, supported by the armed forces and the government, eventually restarted the industry without the striking managers and technicians.

According to Izzara, “The private media promoted all of the campaigns to discredit President Chavez and his policies … during the oil industry sabotage of Christmas 2002-2003; more than 13,000 political propaganda advertisements were broadcast in a two month period”. After the failed bosses’ strike, the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, a US-based liberal think-tank, described the ads run by Globovision and RCTV as designed to “animate an economically devastating and socially destabilizing general strike directed at overthrowing Chavez. [These ads] energetically promoted opposition leaders, while at the same time defaming the president and ignoring news that favored him”.

Globovision broadcasts have also incited the assassination of President Chavez for years. Following the end of RCTV’s licence in May 2007, its director, Marcel Granier, was interviewed by Globovision program Alo Ciudadano. As he criticised Chavez, the screen was split and images of the attempted assassination of Pope John Paul II in 1981 were shown while the song “Have faith, this doesn’t end here” played. A coup plot that included a plan to assassinate Chavez by blowing up his plane was exposed in September 2008. Yet, according to Disodado Cabello, “It appears that the intention to assassinate the president is not news for some of the media”.

Despite Chavez pardoning the leaders of the April 2002 coup in January 2008, last October Alo Ciudadano once again broadcast an incitement to assassinate Chavez. This time, during an interview, the editor of opposition newspaper El Nuevo Pais, Rafael Poleo, threatened Chavez: “Be careful Hugo, you may end up like your counterpart [Italian fascist dictator] Benito Mussolini, hung upside down”.

Blanca Eekhout, the president ViVe TV, one of the six state-run TV channels, explained that the Venezuelan corporate media continue to be “instruments of the empire of transnational corporations that not only plan to assassinate the president and rupture the constitution, but also plan to massacre our people in order to control our natural resources and impede Venezuela from being an example to the world of the construction of socialism”.

The latest scare campaign by the opposition to be promoted by Globovision attempted to set a pretext for US military intervention. The opposition claimed that the government could use an education law to take away parents’ custody of their children once they reached the age of 10. The host of Buenas Noches (Good Night), another program broadcast on Globovision, declared: “Explain clearly to people: You and your child will be obliged to think that President Chavez is the single possible and efficient leader in Latin America; you run the risk that your son will not be yours, but the state will have the parental authority over your son.”

The opposition campaign has been dubbed Operation Peter Pan II, in reference to the CIA campaign called Operation Never-Never Land, which created widespread panic in the early 1960s in Cuba. The campaign alleged that the Fidel Castro’s revolutionary government would take custody of children away from their parents. Cuban children were airlifted from Cuba to Miami between 1960 and 1962. While the campaign aimed to break middle-class families from supporting Castro, it ended up separating 800 children from their families permanently, leaving them stuck in US orphanages and up for adoption.

While the Western capitalist media ignore the opposition campaign to overthrow the Chavez government, they also ignore the gains made under Chavez’s revolutionary socialist government for alternative and communitarian media news and access to information. Before the revolution, only 5% of people had access to the internet; now 77% have access. As of June this year, 653 info-centres have been set up around the country, including in remote locations, with internet access and satellite dishes. While only 13 licensed community radio stations existed at the beginning of 2002, there are now more than 230 grassroots radio stations run by poor communities, and those recovered radio stations will also become “people’s power” media. Of 81 TV stations, 79 were privately owned before the revolution. Now more than 30 are run by local communities and six by the Chavez government.

The intransigence of the capitalist opposition toward Chavez’s government is due to its steady expropriation of capitalist property and its transformation into enterprises that serve working people’s needs. This makes the Chavez government not only formally democratic — having been elected by the majority of Venezuelans — but also democratic in its policies. The Chavez government rules in the interests of the majority, rather than the tiny minority of big business owners.

The capitalist opposition has demonstrated its willingness to use violence to frustrate the will of the majority. The opposition’s media mouthpieces, Globovision and RCTV, do not represent socially neutral news and information outlets but act as “media terrorists” for the minority capitalist opposition. As the Caracas Declaration of the Latin American Meeting against Media Terrorism noted in March, “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.”