Radio Free Venezuela?

The United States Congress is doing its best to outdo the Colombian government in overwrought, overreaching responses to the new Latin American news station Telesur. The U.S. House of Representatives passed an amendment on Wednesday to begin beaming “the ideals of freedom” into Venezuela via new broadcasts modeled on the Cuba-aimed Radio Marti.

The flimsy justification for force-feeding U.S. government and CIA propaganda onto the airwaves which is used for Cuba – that the government does not allow opposing views in the media – should be laughable to anyone who has spent one day in Venezuela. Newsstands and television stations overflow with big-budget anti-Chavista media. Not a single journalist has been jailed or censured under Hugo Chávez’s presidency, while government censorship was rampant under several previous rightwing administrations.

But apparently the impending launch of Telesur – which in truth represents more voices, more freedom of information, instead of less – has the wingnuts that seem to control the House these days in a panic. Knight-Ridder reported yesterday:

On Wednesday, the U.S. House of Representatives approved an amendment authorizing radio and television broadcasts into Venezuela. The proposal is modeled after Radio Marti, which transmits anti-Communist programming to Cuba, and is intended to counter Telesur, a new Latin American television network backed by the Venezuelan government that is set to debut Sunday.

‘Telesur is a piece of the larger puzzle where (Venezuelan President Hugo) Chavez is trying to incorporate his revolution to all of South America and he wants to push his propaganda through this network,’ said Rep. Connie Mack, R-Fla., the amendment's author. “We wanted to make sure the Venezuelans have the opportunity to hear the ideals of freedom.”

And Gregory Wilpert reports today in

Mack justified his proposal by arguing that “In Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela there is no free press – just state controlled Anti-American, anti-American propaganda. … There is no freedom of speech, no freedom of dissent, and no freedom to stand in opposition to the Chavez regime.”

Reacting to this comment, [Venezuelan ambassador to the U.S. Bernardo] Alvarez pointed out that the U.S.-government TV channel Voice of America is broadcast on all Venezuelan cable and satellite carriers. Also, Fox News and CNN International are both broadcast on cable and satellite carriers in Venezuela. Venezuela’s main private TV stations, Venevisión and Globovisión, which are broadcast via the airwaves, also present the conservative Miami program of Andrés Oppenheimer and CNN en español on a regular basis. All this is in addition to the general anti-Chavez bias of all of Venezuela’s private broadcasters, which dominate the airwaves.

Mack’s bizarro-world version of the media reality in Venezuela is reminiscent of other proposals recently passed in the house related to the war on drugs. Just take the “mycoherbicide cheering committee” and their insistence, as reported here  by Jeremy Bigwood, on resuming that strategy of biological warfare that is too extreme even for the drug czar. Or the recently reauthorized Plan Colombia funding, the version of which that passed in the house represented absolutely no acknowledgement either that fumigation has not curbed drug shipments to the U.S. or that the Colombian military, receiving more aid than any other in the hemisphere, is engaged in widespread human rights massacres and has close links with people who appear on the U.S.’s own lists of wanted terrorists and drug traffickers. No, despite the abundance of hard information on all these issues available here and in other sources, the House is easily persuaded by a few shouting extremists who don’t even know what they’re talking about.

And imagine, for a moment, the reaction in the U.S. if the Venezuelan government started beaming its own state broadcasts into the United States, with no license, interfering with domestic airwaves and essentially stealing pieces of the radio spectrum so prized by the commercial interests that now run the FCC. The FCC does not tolerate such antics from even small local community radio stations, let along foreign governments. Telesur, on the other hand, is trying to spread its views and perspectives throughout the hemisphere by lawful, respectful means, searching out mutual partnerships with local cable and satellite providers.

In fact, this proposal is too crazy even for the Venezuelan opposition media – look, Mr. Mack! They exist! They can say whatever they want! – who have, according to today’s El Tiempo of Bogotá, not responded very warmly to the gesture:

Among members of the Venezuelan media – none of them especially pro-Chavez – the U.S. decision was not well received, either.

Andrés Cañizales, of the Press and Society Institute, called the decision a “blunder” that gave Telesur “on a silver platter” to the most radical sectors of the government “in order to end up becoming a true anti-gringo trench.” What’s more, he said, “freedom of expression consists of the availability of more options, so we are not in agreement with this.”

Sara Díaz, a journalist from [opposition daily] El Universal, felt that the decision “makes no sense, because we have access to all the media and channels. We are not Cuba.”

Even if this proposal passes the Senate, it is more of a reflection of the true character of the U.S. government than any real threat to information freedom in Venezuela. As noted above, most of this material is already freely transmitted on Venezuela’s airwaves. And like last week’s outbursts from the Colombian government, it will in the end probably win more respect for Telesur and similar projects throughout our América.


The Wingnuts Are Coming!

Nothing like the establishment of a new TV station to bring out the wingnuts (what? Are they bored with FOX News already? Are they gonna have to learn Spanish to be able to rail at Telesur?)

In an upcoming essay, I'll have more fact-checking Florida Congress member Connie Mack's recent shrieking claims about Venezuela and Telesur. But in my daily review of what's being said in the media about our América I found a column that just is too funny to let the morning pass by without sharing it.

The column, by William A. Borst Ph.D. is titled The real Fidel Castro, Hugo Chavez and it's published on some rightwing website named "Renew America" from some other publication called "The Mindszenty Report." Here's my favorite paragraph from this columnist warning that communism is back by popular demand in Latin America:

Ecuador is now under the control of radical Castro-Chavez protege' Lucio Gutierrez. The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia (FARC), the Communist narco-terrorist organization that has been waging a bloody civil war for 40 years, virtually rules Columbia. Riots in Bolivia forced out President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada in 2003 and the country has nationalized its petroleum industry. Evo Morales, the leader of the Movement Toward Socialism may soon replace current president Carlos Mesa. Both Peru's Alejandro Toledo elected in 2000 and Uruguay's Tabare Vazquez, elected in 2004, maintain a leftist rule in their countries."

Um, like, how many facts are wrong in that one paragraph? Lucio is still the president of Ecuador? Really? And Carlos Mesa is still president of Bolivia? Didn't their heads roll this past spring? I think I read something about those events on Narco News. And "Bolivia nationalized its petroleum industry"? How'd we miss that story? And Peru's Alejandro Toledo "maintains a leftist rule" in Peru? To the left of what? Colombia? And the FARC "virtually rules" Colombia? So that's who's been pardoning all them paramilitaries, "Sureshot Uribe," eh?

And if Hugo Chavez is the "real" Fidel, then whose that old guy with the beard in Cuba? And who would be "the real Hugo Chavez" to take his place. Sheesh. Geopolitics gets more complicated every day.

Yeah. The wingnuts are coming. This will be fun. Welcome, kids! Maybe they should learn Spanish and watch Telesur. At least they'd know then who is president of each country so they'll know who to attack in their columns.

Chavez and Press Freedom

it was enjoyable reading this article about telesur.  i'm wondering if u'v ever heard of an outrfit called 'the international press institute' (ipi) ?  they gave hugo a terrible bollocking in their 2004 report over a law introduced by chavez called 'Social Responsibility in Radio and Television, commonly known as the Media Content Law'. according to ipi the law allows for abitrary penalties aganist individuals who may insult government and state employees, which many critics fear is a backdoor way to censor opposition. i've been telling ppl what a free and open pres they have in venezuela.  am i wrong?   what are ur thoughts about this?

Commercial Press Priorities

As you can see from the International Press Association's website, it's board of directors comes exclusively from the managerial and owning class of Commercial or government media apparati:

Their priorities are not the same as those of news readers, or working reporters, or other journalists or media workers.

Besides, there's no "beef" to their complaints: it's all speculative, about what they fear might be done under Venezuela's new media laws and Constitution. They can't point to a single Venezuelan journalist in prison or assassinated under Chávez's watch. The facts show that the Venezuelan government has let Commercial Media get away with things - like "inciting to riot" - that would have gotten them shut down in the United States or elsewhere already.

Their complaints are a smokescreen for their bitterness that these same media laws have opened up the right to broadcast to small non-profit TV and radio stations, which have, by reporting and telling the truth, ripped away the veneer of "credibility" that the Commercial Media thought it had.

We're a newspaper (Narco News) which, as everybody knows, was viciously attacked by powerful financial interests trying to shut us down. Did the International Press Association or any of its affiliates lift a finger to defend us? Nope. Even after we won, and set a legal precedent providing First Amendment protections for Internet journalists, did they cheer? No. They cried. Their monopoly was broken.

So you'll have to excuse me if I don't find them a credible source, especially when their complaints are mere speculations about what "could" happen, conveniently ignoring the true facts of what does happen.

'Free press' realities

Al Giordano writes:

The facts show that the Venezuelan government has let Commercial Media get away with things - like "inciting to riot" - that would have gotten them shut down in the United States or elsewhere already.

Giordano's assertion does reflect the reality of the press in U.S. society. As evidence, Gary Webb wrote:

In mid-October (2003), however, a reporter ... called the US Attorney's Office in Sacramento and asked for a comment on a declaration (former FBI agent Lok) Lau had made in the case. Within days, the Justice Department stormed into federal court, demanded a private meeting with the judge, and persuaded him on national-security grounds to black out every mention of Lau's work in China, both from his declaration and in a friend-of-the-court brief filed by the League of United Latin American Citizens, a Texas anti-discrimination group.

Then it sought the judge's permission to seize any computers that might have a copy of Lau's secrets on their hard drives - and to erase them. That order, which was declined, was written broadly enough to have covered not only the computers used by Lau and his lawyers, but those of a Texas journalist covering the Lau story, the League of United Latin American Citizens, and the California First Amendment Coalition, a newspaper-industry advocacy group that had publicized the Justice Department's strange actions.

"What's extraordinary is that the government, in this case, succeeded in sealing something that had been on the public record for three weeks," said Terry Francke, the First Amendment Coalition's general counsel.

Though the Justice Department had asked for and been denied permission to seize all paper copies of Lau's declaration from anyone who had it, Lau's lawyers and his support group in Texas all received phone calls from the Sacramento US Attorney's Office asking for the papers back. Lau's lawyers complied; the Texas anti-discrimination group refused.

"I said show me a court order," said Julie Marquez, who handles criminal-justice issues for the San Antonio-based organization. "Even though the judge specifically told them they couldn't go out and get these papers, they were still calling people up and telling them to give them back."

The First Amendment Coalition posted uncensored copies of those documents on its website, prompting the Justice Department to return to court and ask for an electronic search-and-destroy order. And, coincidentally, while all of this was going on, the offices of Lau's psychologist were burglarized and computer equipment was taken.

And all that was done in the United States, even with its First Amendment guarantee of freedom of the press.

I don't recall the International Press Association saying squat about the Lau case and the U.S. Department of Justice's pursuit of "arbitrary penalties against individuals" -- such as seeking to seize computers to suppress public records embarrassing to the government.

Unlike LULAC's Marquez -- a senior citizen who lives on the San Antonio's tough West Side, IPA and other similar cubical-bound press-rights simulation groups don't seem to have the cahonas to stand up for freedom of the press when the risk of doing so threatens their pocketbooks -- or even cocktail-party access.

That's my opinion at any rate.

But maybe I'm being a bit harsh. It could have been that they were just too busy carrying water for their corporate masters, to notice that -- to steal a line from Bob Dylan:  

"The pump don't work
'Cause the vandals took the handles."

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About Dan Feder

I was a member of the Narco News team in various capacities, from webmaster to Editor-in-Chief, from 2002-2008. Since 2006 I have also been a member of the International Peace Observatory, which performs human rights accompaniment for Colombian campesino organizations in conflict zones. I am now living in Boston and working as a website developer for DigitalAid, Inc.