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    Tuesday, 22 May 2007

    The case of Chavez against RCTV (freedom of expression vs. public service broadcasting)

    The following guest posting was submitted by Masters student Diego Gonzales-Crespo. It focuses on the decision of the Venezuelan government not to renew the concession to broadcast enjoyed by a private operator (on the basis of an alleged lack of impartiality), and the replacement of this channel with a new PSB. We'd like actively to encourage comment and counterpoint. For background details, see this from the Financial Times, this from the Committee to Protect Journalists, and this from Z Magazine.


    Over the past 6 months the Venezuelan-socially-inspired government has announced that it will not renew the concession of Channel 2 concessionaire 1BC Group which owned Radio Caracas Television (RCTV). According to the government the concession is due next May 27, 2007. RCTV has had a long tradition in the development of media ever since the birth of television. Venezuelans like me can truly remember the impact of RCTV in the lives of people. But that is besides the point, so one thinks, especially when you find the true reasoning behind the government in renewing the TV plant’s concession rights and to publicly fund a public service broadcasting television station (TVes) to be its substitute.

    In an inauguration speech the newly appointed president of TVes seemed to give importance of the idea of nationality (venezolaneidad, or venezolaniticity) and the promotion of idea of socialism in contrast to capitalism. A lot of things had happened between the starting point and where it truly ends making me think about real politik of governments and their pursuit of control over media outlets.

    After the interruption of the constitutional order in April 2002 (as determined by a final decision of the Supreme Court of Justice, later criticized by the government as a turd), the government made direct accusations to RCTV of transmitting cartoons and not divulging newsworthy material indispensable to the institutional order and the protection of the constitutionally elected government. In short, RCTV collaborated directly and was partial to the attempted coup against elected president Hugo Chavez Frias in April 2002.

    According to the views of [Golding and Elliot] impartiality has to do with a disinterested approach to news lacking in motivation to shape or select material according to a particular view or opinion whilst objectivity to a complete untainted capture of the world. In this sense, the government alleges RCTV was partial. Without any previous administrative proceedings (allegedly breaching due process) the government publicly announced that it will not renew the concession of RCTV on sovereignty grounds, and announced the creation of a public service broadcasting network. Now with TVes, the government of Venezuela has a collection of media outlets, totalling almost to 5 different directly publicly funded media outlets. (VTV Channel 8, Telesur, ANtv and different community television stations).

    RCTV supporters have rallied throughout the streets of Caracas, even unveiling the biggest poster in Latin America for the protection of freedom of expression. The true meaning, they fear, is that the government is sending a message to all media outlets including journalists, either they support the government or they will be shut up, -or down as in the case of RCTV. They argue that this would be a breach of freedom of expression, but also to the protection of private property. RCTV attorneys filed a constitutional action before the Supreme Court of Justice but to no [political] avail. The Court seems to be on Chavez’s behalf. Even though it seems that due process has been violated when the President has announced in different public scenarios and even made a mockery that he will not renew the concession. Additionally, this has created impasses with the Secretary of the Organization of American States (OAS), the Latin American Press Council, including a group of representatives of the European Council.

    The question in my mind, is how can a government truly justify the renewal of a concession right legally granted? The answer can not be acquired rights, but also has to shy away from the scarcity rationale, especially when you consider that the government already controls and publicly funds more than enough media outlets. Concerning the argument of the public service broadcasting for the creation of the new formed TVes, it assumes, according to [Born and Prosser – (2001) Modern Law Review, 64, 5], the promotion of citizenship, universality and quality of services and output. So far the government has tried to spin the argument of freedom of expression into the need for the promotion of the venezolanicity and socialist ideas to contrast capitalism. In my views not enough justifications for more public service broadcasting while hiding its true intentions. That is a message to everyone else…don’t be like RCTV.

    Diego Gonzales-Crespo


    Anonymous said...

    The Guardian carried a story this week on precisely this issue in Venezuela, although the subs have perhaps underplayed its importance - see Chávez silences critical TV station - and robs the people of their soaps

    Anonymous said...

    From the Venezuela Information Centre:

    Leading voices in Britain call for respect for Venezuelan government's RCTV decision.

    Prominent figures including Members of Parliament, Nobel Prize for literature winner Harold Pinter, film-maker John Pilger and Tony Benn have called for support for the Venezuelan government's decision not to renew the licence of the RCTV television station. Academics, trade unionists and student leaders also backed the call.

    In a letter they say that the decision of the "Venezuelan government not to renew the broadcasting licence of RCTV when it expires on May 27 is legitimate given that RCTV has used its access to the public airwaves to repeatedly call for the overthrow of the democratically elected government of President Hugo Chávez" and point out that ''RCTV gave vital practical support'' to the military coup against Hugo Chavez in April 2002.

    They explain that 'RCTV, far from being silenced, is being allowed to continue broadcasting by satellite and cable' and ask people to "Imagine the consequences if the BBC or ITV were found to be part of a coup against the government," and urges Venezuela to be given "the same consideration."

    The letter and a number of its signatories appeared in The Guardian newspaper (26 May). The letter and its signatories are below:

    We believe that the decision of the Venezuelan government not to renew the broadcasting licence of RCTV when it expires on May 27 is legitimate given that RCTV has used its access to the public airwaves to repeatedly call for the overthrow of the democratically elected government of President Hugo Chávez.

    RCTV gave vital practical support to the overthrow of Venezuela's elected government in April 2002 in which at least 13 people were killed. In the 47 hours that the coup plotters held power, they overturned much of Venezuela's democratic constitution - closing down the elected national assembly, the Supreme Court and other state institutions.

    RCTV exhorted the public to take to the streets and overthrow the government and also colluded with the coup by deliberately misrepresenting what was taking place, and then conducting a news blackout. Its production manager, Andrés Izarra, who opposed the coup, immediately resigned so as not to become an accomplice.

    This is not a case of censorship. In Venezuela more than 90% of the media is privately owned and virulently opposed to the Chávez government. RCTV, far from being silenced, is being allowed to continue broadcasting by satellite and cable.

    In Venezuela, as in Britain, TV stations must adhere to laws and regulations governing what they can broadcast. Imagine the consequences if the BBC or ITV were found to be part of a coup against the government. Venezuela deserves the same consideration.


    . Tariq Ali,
    . Tony Benn,
    . Colin Burgon MP,
    . Julia Buxton, academic,
    . Ruyuyyah Collector, Black Students' Officer, National Union of Students,
    . Jeremy Corbyn MP,
    . Jon Cruddas MP,
    . Megan Dobney, Regional Secretary, SERTUC
    . Billy Hayes, General Secretary, CWU,
    . Gordon Hutchison, Secretary, Venezuela Information Centre,
    . Kelvin Hopkins MP,
    . Chris Martin, Director, The War on Democracy
    . Joni McDougall, International Solidarity Officer, GMB,
    . Gerry Morrissey, General Secretary, BECTU (Broadcasting Entertainment Cinematograph and Theatre Union)
    . Kaveh Moussavi, Head of the Public Interest Law Programme at University of Oxford's Centre for Socio-Legal Studies.
    . John Pilger,
    . Harold Pinter
    . Professor Jonathan Rosenhead, LSE,
    . Keith Sonnet, Deputy General Secretary, UNISON,
    . Hugh O'Shaughnessy, writer and journalist,
    . Rod Stoneman, Executive Producer, The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,
    . Jon Trickett MP,
    . Gemma Tumelty, President, National Union of Students,
    . Cllr Salma Yaqoob.

    Andrew Scott said...

    For further developments on this story, see the following news articles:

    - Guardian: Chávez attacks another private TV channel, 30 May
    - Second Venezuela TV is under fire

    Anonymous said...

    There's an interesting article on Latin American leftists in Foreign Policy: see The Return of the Idiot

    Anonymous said...

    Its catching!! Reporters Without Borders have published a story reflecting the applications for political asylum of 14 Azerbaijani journalists after their opposition-oriented newspapers were closed down by the government

    Andrew Scott said...

    There's an interesting summary of the pro and anti arguments on this in the Guardian today:

    'This is media war'

    Anonymous said...

    ...and now in Pakistan:

    Musharraf closes TV stations as democracy calls grow

    Andrew Scott said...

    Thanks to Charlie Beckett for the note that excerpts from RCTV are now available - and doing well - on YouTube (YouTube v Chavez)

    Andrew Scott said...

    From today's Guardian, a somewhat onesided (!) piece by Chavez's biographer alleging that colonialism and racism form the backdrop to the 'class war' in Venezuela exemplified by the RCTV debate. So, self-evidently, the 'langourous' 'long-haired and pulchritudinous young blondes' and their friends are on the wrong side of history:

    See The battle over the media is about race as well as class

    Anonymous said...

    The Venezuelan ambassador in London today had a letter published in The Independent highlighting a point deemed absent from much discussion of this issue- the illegal activities of the RCTV owners. It is printed below.


    TV and civil unrest in Venezuela

    Sir: Your leading article "A show of intolerance" (30 May), failed to mention that the reason for the non-renewal of the licence of RCTV in Venezuela directly relates to the channel's non-compliance with the law.

    Public airwaves' licensees should not, indeed, incite political violence and civil unrest. That was precisely what RCTV did when conspiring to bring down the constitutional government, on the occasion of the coup of April 2002, and the active promotion of the oil sabotage of December 2002, which cost the country more than $10bn in losses.

    John Pilger's new film The War on Democracy (Lionsgate), which will be released in UK cinemas on Friday 15 June, clearly shows the above. Readers of The Independent should see that film and judge for themselves.




    A trailer for Pilger's film, can be seen here

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