RC...T-Vas? A gringa Venezolanophile's perspective

by Megan Hise, PCASC activist in Venezuela

If you are paying attention to what has been sailing through the
mainstream media about RCTV and Chavez these days you are probably wondering how the darling child of the left turned into a repressive opponent of the freedom of expression. Here are some of my insights having been walking the streets of Caracas for the past 6 months or so.

Radio Caracas Television is one of the oldest channels in Venezuela. The people grew up with it's programming and remember it with the kina of nostalgia we hold for TGIF on ABC. The concession, or license to transmit, was originally granted to the station owners under the dictatorship of Carlos Andres Perez that ended in 1958. It is a cultural icon, much more so than stations like Globovision (aka Globoterror as it is called by the left). It is both popular and popular, meaning everybody watches it, especially the folks in the barrios. It is not much different from our network television in the quality and variety of its programming and therefore as guilty of stupefying and contributing to public apathy as any one of our beloved channels here in the US.

RCTV was one of the media outlets complicit in the opposition's failed coup attempt and faux-general strike (again known popularly as the boss's strike or lockout). Leading up to and during these intense periods of political turmoil these stations failed to cover and broadcast the reality at hand, choosing instead to use the materials at their disposal to psychologically manipulate views and causing a virtual media blackout.

In pre-election analysis in Caracas in November it was observed that, facing the imminent expiration of their concessions, many media
outlets increased the outright viciousness of their oppositional bias, banking their future on a loss for Chavez.

Chavez did not lose, however, he is facing an uphill battle in his attempt to consolidate this whole 21st Century Socialism thing. The timing Chavez's discourse announcing his refusal to renew the RCTV concession was not coincidental, just days after his controversial proposal to create the Partido Socialista Unico de Venezuela, which later evolved into the Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela (the "one and only" became the "united")

Chavistas cheered while the opposition gnashed its terrible teeth (and lots lots more). Many were saying that RCTV did not deserve its concession because of its terribly undemocratic and dangerous programming during the coup. The government however denied that the decision not to renew was not based on the dissenting political views of the channel, but rather on repeated violations of the media regulations passed in 2004. Things like decency and honesty. Here is a link to an article written by Eva Gollinger about that:

The famous attempted coup against Chavez occurred in response to the first "enabling law" which gave Chavez powers to push through some famous reforms clutch bills that are now celebrated by most lefties. In light of this second "enabling" law, it appears that Chavez has drawn a line in the sand and dared the opposition to try again. The line being the enforcement of the media reform laws passed after the destabilization attempts of 2002. Both the opposition and the Chavista political machine have deliberately framed the RCTV issue to their respective advantages, creating a battle ground around which to organize and mobilize their bases. For Chavez, RCTV is an emblem of the "Cuarta Republica", a relic of the old oligarchy. For the opposition it is a trusted institution, a symbol of liberty and culture.

To come to terms with this issue, I think it is necessary to recognize the contradictions, or many realities, of this socialist process.

First off, "socialism" has to entail some degree of government control of the economy and society, right? It is also important to highlight that the 21st century socialism idea circulating Venezuela places emphasis on popular power, that the people hold the reigns.

We must also understand note that the Venezuelan people have
been victims of a media war for years and years. The experience of the coup and lockout have demonstrated that revolution not only requires controlling the means of production, but also the means of communication.

So, as we try to take the means of production, moving a little bit to control the distribution of wealth...will we notice tension around the sacredness of private property? YES

As we try to reshape media to be of the people, by the people, for the people, will there be shouting around freedom of expression? YES

And what if we take on a giant corporation (3,000 or so employees) that is AT THE SAME TIME a powerful media outlet? Conflict is inevitable.

And conflict there is. We are hearing accounts of violence and rioting as students demonstrate for freedom of expression. Unfortunately, the analysis coming from my Venezuelan contacts, especially those who come from the world of community media, is that these protests are not an authentic explosion of popular dissent. Rather they are a response to calculated agitation on the part of the opposition to manipulate the, for instance, students into a frenzy, the goal of which is to destabilize Chavez as he tries to move one more step forward towards what they like to call "cubanization" as he likes to call "rumbo al socialismo."

On the front lines of the battle in Caracas, grassroots organizations like remind us that the Bolivarian process is not the "Chavez show", and that the political landscape is anything but binary. They say enough with the private media giants, and eschew the media of the state as well. Although they support the closure of RCTV, they are not fighting media controlled by the state. Instead, they are building a movement for independent, community controlled media.

It is a different model, one where media is really a mirror that
reflects the realities of our lives and neighborhoods so that we can understand and appreciate who we are and where we are going. The ultimate goal is television, radio, and print that are first honest, and second, aim to meet our cultural and educational needs instead of selling us destructive lifestyles.

Looking at the RCTV story from this angle, I feel called to take the streets and shout, loud and proud, R-C-T-Vas!

The media's job is to interest the public in the public interest. -John Dewey