Vivanco Attacks Telesur: "The Airwaves Are Falling!"

Telesur, the Latin America-wide TV station that is scheduled to begin broadcasting on July 24 with start-up funds from the governments of Argentina, Venezuela, Uruguay and Cuba, is already worrying the anti-democracy crowd in the region, including Human Rights Watch "Americas Director" José Miguel Vivanco.

According to today's Chicago Tribune, Vivanco is calling upon a higher power - God herself! - to help him in his battle to discredit a TV station that he has never even watched. Vivanco said:

"If the shareholders of this company belong to a government like Cuba where they have no basic concept of free speech and zero tolerance for independent views, God help us."

In his panicked announcement that the airwaves are falling, Vivanco was joined by an old ally: Venezuelan coup plotter and media baron Alberto Federico Ravell...

More after the jump... The Chicago Tribune reports that opponents of Venezuela's democratically elected President Hugo Chávez, including Vivanco and Ravell, are absolutely livid about the possibility that with a new TV broadcaster in the region, Telesur could bring about the Commercial Media's loss of its monopoly over Latin American airwaves:

"Critics fear Chavez will use Telesur to project his ideas across Latin America at a time when some media executives and human-rights experts say Chavez has curbed free speech in his own country."

The Tribune writer, Gary Marx, sloppily did not document or explain his claim that free speech has supposedly been curbed in a country where not a single journalist has been put in prison by Chávez's seven year administration, and where Commercial TV stations continue to broadcast knowing falsehoods, and promote coups and upper class riots, with impunity, and without government censorship.

Still, the anti-democracy crowd that Vivanco and Globovision owner Ravell represent are freaking out that instead of censoring speech, the Venezuelan and other governments in the region are simply creating a long overdue infrastructure to allow for more speech. The Tribune reports:

"Alberto Federico Ravell, executive director of Globovision, a local 24-hour news channel highly critical of the president (said) 'Chavez wants to become the leader of Latin America, and this is a project to support him.'"

This is the same Alberto Federico Ravell who, according to the British business magazine, The Economist, was a key player in the 2002 attempted military coup in Venezuela when dictator-for-a-day Pedro Carmona had Chávez kidnapped at gunpoint and announced that he, instead, would now be president:

"...a group of top media executives rolled up in their limousines for a meeting with Mr Carmona, at the 19th-century Miraflores palace. All had been prominent critics of Mr Chavez’s alleged abuses of press freedom. Gustavo Cisneros, owner of the Venevision television channel and perhaps the country’s richest man, headed the group. Also present were Miguel Henrique Otero, publisher of the El Nacional group of newspapers, Alberto Federico Ravell, chief executive of Globovision (Venezuela’s answer to CNN) and Marcel Granier of the RCTV channel...

"They toasted the downfall of their adversary with 18-year-old Scotch. 'We can’t guarantee you the loyalty of the army,' a presidential guard heard one of them tell Mr Carmona, 'but we can promise you the support of the media.'

"But by the time the media barons met on Saturday, their whole plot was unravelling. Precisely what was said at the meeting is a matter for speculation. But Mr Carmona was overheard telling them: 'In your hands lie the safety and stability of the government.'

"In a desperate bid to hold on to power, the government’s media allies conspired to suppress all news of its difficulties. A regime that had seized power while waving the flag of press freedom spent its 36 hours in office doing its best to keep the truth from the public.

"The censorship which had begun the previous evening, with the first pro-Chavez riots, was tightened. Globovision, Venevision and RCTV blacked out the news completely, running videos of the previous day's inauguration, soothing music and requests to stay at home and remain calm..."

That the media magnate Ravell doesn't want competition for his discredited TV network Globovision is understandable: oligarchs have grown soft and accustomed to being protected from competition. Despite their ideological rhetoric, they don't know how to compete in a widened free market of speech and ideas. But that Human Rights Watch's Jose Vivanco is now attacking the Telesur network that he has never even seen on the air, in light of his three-year silence about the anti-democracy coup participation by Commercial media barons like Ravell, is yet another nail in the coffin of Human Rights Watch's dwindling credibility in Latin America.

Any authentic human rights advocate would cheer the expansion of free speech as represented by a new and different kind of TV network about to hit the airwaves. In a pluralist and open society, more media voices, not fewer, are desperately needed.

Instead, Vivanco's ideological myopia has him running scared - invoking the name of God to help him! - worried not about how the concentration of media power in the hands of a few coup plotters in Venezuela has historically led to widespread human rights abuses and censorship, but about the anti-democracy elite's loss of its monopoly over the airwaves.

With his latest statement, Vivanco, again, places Human Rights Watch against free speech, against a free press, against an open society, and in favor of restricting public discourse only to those voices allowed on the airwaves by the wealthy.

Nobody yet knows whether Telesur will truly open the doors of the media to the people. Or even what its programming will be like. But with the Chicken Littles of simulated democracy like Vivanco and Ravell running around cackling "the airwaves are falling! The airwaves are falling...," Telesur is already comforting the afflicted by afflicting the comfortable.

That, alone, demonstrates why the new TV network is an idea whose time has come.

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About Al Giordano


Publisher, Narco News.

Reporting on the United States at The Field.