Venezuela: Chavez bent on silencing media
26 Jan 2010

Free media in Venezuela has suffered another blow, with RCTV removed from cable platforms. Daniel Duquenal reports

Last Saturday (23 January) at midnight precisely the Chavez administration ordered cable TV companies and Direct TV to take RCTV (and several other stations) off their grids. The companies had little choice but to abide. The motivation was a new regulation announced on December 22, essentially broadening the remit of the infamous “Ley RESORTE” —- a law that designates what and how  terrestrial television networks can broadcast on air — to cover what is broadcast on cable networks. The excuse for the blocking was that RCTV had not transmitted a surprise cadena* on Saturday. The real reason is RCTV’s success on cable.

After it was originally banned from the air waves in 2007, RCTV reinvented itself as RCTV Internacional, on cable only. Since then it has had unexpected success, contributing to the recent boom in cable TV. In under three years cable penetration has grown from around 22 per cent to 37 per cent. And this without counting the extended illegal connections in a nearly lawless country that could well bring the total of Venezuelan homes connected to a cable provider above 50 per cent. RCTV has had 20 per cent audience share at times!

This has caused a problem for Chavez and his administration. Until now cable TV had been exempted from passing the odious cadenas. That has certainly contributed to the rise of the cable TV market in a relatively poor country where the cheapest cable subscription represents as much as 10 per cent of the minimum wage depending on the area. The Gramscian approach to information control that Chavismo embraces cannot tolerate ways to escape the official message, the more so when the flagship show of RCTV is the morning talk show of Miguel Angel Rodriguez, routinely excoriated in the pro-Chavez media for his investigation and criticism of the regime.

Besides any excuse for the closing of RCTV one could try to come up with, the truth is that Chavez is in trouble. 2009 ended with an acknowledged inflation rate of  27 per cent and a deep water and electricity crisises, requiring rationing. All due to lack of government planning more than to any climatological excuse. 2010 started with a brutal devaluation (100 per cent) which, in spite of a better exchange rate for abundant food imports, is likely to cause an inflation hike of 50 per cent for this year. If one adds the security crisis that makes Caracas one of the most dangerous capitals of the world and the recession that started in the middle of last year, one can understand why Chavez is so eager to restrict freedom of information.

There is really no excuse to close RCTV. The charges of conspiracy routinely repeated by Chavismo have never been proved, no journalist or RCTV director had been convicted or even stood trial. On open broadcast Chavismo controls everything except the 24 hour news channal Globovision, itself under threat, which only broadcasts in Caracas and Valencia (cable only elsewhere). The regime can’t pretend that Chavez’s message cannot reach the people. If it hasn’t reached them after 11 years it is either because they learned to use their remote control, or because they learned to turn off their TV during a cadena. Closing RCTV will not increase Chavez’s ratings, only those of the National Geographic channel. Or will this one also be required to pass Chavez cadenas? Let’s not forget that it is questionable that a government rules on what goes on cable TV besides the obvious morality clauses. A cable TV subscription is a private transaction and state interference can be seen as a breach of the right to privacy. RCTV has been put off air because it refuses to obey cadenas, but the Hustler channel remains in the grid, exempt of cadenas, because all the smut is produced overseas, while RCTV produces more than 30 per cent of its shows in Venezuela.

It may not be a coincidence that the blocking of RCTV came on 23 January, when the fall of the Venezuelan dictatorship in 1958 is commemorated. It seems that Chavez is itching for a confrontation to distract the country from the woes he has brought upon us. The brutal repression of a student protest against the closing of RCTV on Monday is a sign of things to come.

*A cadena is the power that the state has to commandeer simultaneously all airwaves, TV and radio, in Venezuela for as long as it wants, for as often as it wants. This legal provision was designed for such messages as the presidential state of the nation speeches or in case of national emergency. But under Chavez it has become a constant abuse, subjecting the country some weeks to several cadenas of several hours each, almost uniquely of Chavez speeches and propaganda. There is of course no right to reply on the state controlled networks.

12 responses to “Venezuela: Chavez bent on silencing media”

  1. One understands that life is very expensive, nevertheless people need cash for different stuff and not every man gets enough money. Hence to receive fast home loans and bank loan would be good solution.

  2. What’s the whole agenda of Chavez I wonder? I’m watching the local stations from my pc with Satellite Direct for live broadcasts.

  3. StJacques says:

    As an American, I am most shocked to see so very little of this unfolding story revealed within the news media in my country. But I am hopeful that coverage will expand soon, given that the pace of events in Venezuela appears to be emboldening the opposition.

    It is time for everyone to stand up and call Hugo Chavez exactly what he is; a brutal tyrant turning more and more to violence and repression to cover the litany of mistakes of his failed regime.

    You’ve done a fine job Daniel. I hope to see more from you in the future.

  4. Kepler says:

    Mr Carlson, an employee of Hugo’s regime, has a very peculiar explanation for Venezuela’s collapsing energy system.

    If Hugo wanted to show solidarity, he should start by reducing presidential expenses and spend the money more on the poorest in the country, above all in SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT and, why not, in Haiti, in Bolivia (but not for political purposes).

    In reality there is a long list of incredible expenses Hugo is carrying out even in richer countries than Venezuela just to get more favours from the governments in those countries.
    The mismanagement of the people’s money by the Boliburguesia is also even worse than that of the very corrupt IV Republic.

    Going back to censorship: I hope one day Venezuela will have a national TV station that is not in the hands of the government in power but, as in Germany and other European countries, operates in a rather independent fashion (examples: ZDF and ARD). That would be benefitial to state institutions and that would create a lot of good competition in the private sector as well.

    When I see VTV now, I really remember Pravda in the early eighties…only that reality is more one-sided on VTV.

  5. Elvira says:

    It has taken time, but I am glad that the international media has finally understood what is really going on in Venezuela. The media that originally favored Chavez is writing about what Venezuelans suffer every day under Chavez regime.
    Thanks, Index on Censorship, the Washington Post, Washington Times and now the New York Times for posting accurate reports. Thanks also to the brave Venezuelan bloggists like Daniel Duquenal and Miguel Octavio who cover the information from Venezuela.

  6. Chris Carlson says:

    The lying opposition is slandering the best efforts of Hugo Chavez. It wasn’t Hugo’s fault that funds for maintenance of Planta Centro and other thermoelectric plants were sent to Bolivia and Nicaragua. Those countries needed our help. Having Venezuela’s thermoelectric plants operating at 20% of theoretical capacity, leaving a deficit of over 3,500 MW, is a small price to pay for solidarity with Bolivia and Nicaragua. The citizens of Venezuela gladly pay the price of scheduled and unscheduled blackouts every week in order to express solidarity with Bolivia and Nicaragua. There is no point in spending money on maintaining our thermoelectric plants if we cannot also express our solidarity with Bolivia and Nicaragua. Solidarity trumps bourgeois creature comforts every time. I am operating my computer on bicycle power. Solidarity trumps bourgeois creature comforts every time. I am so glad to live in a country which shows its solidarity for the poor by pricing gasoline at 15 cents US per gallon. ( 4 cents US per liter)

  7. 1979 Boat People says:

    I rely on Mr. Daniel Duquenal’s blog to learn about Venezuela for the last two years. His blog is one of the best blogs about Venezuela. His analytical thinking/skills and writing are super.

    In summary, time well spent blog about Venezuela.

  8. firepigette says:

    Chavez won’t stop until he has total control of the media.He always does it in stages while offering lame excuses for his actions, in reference to public safety etc.At this point he has arrived at the last stage of his control.Even the cable news outlets which have paying subscribers, are made to comply with the news blackout in which only government propaganda is allowed.

  9. Bois says:

    When I was young, my brothers and friends would play backyard football games. If the team I was on was beating my brothers team, he would invent rules on the fly so he could win.
    Well, Chavez is doing the same thing. With his control of the Assembly, he orders them to make a new law that favors him and only him.
    He then enforces his new law to silence any critics. He proclaims to the people that he is just following the laws in a democratic way.
    Well, Venezuela is starting to wake up and Chavez is feeling the heat.

  10. island canuck says:

    Nice write up Daniel.

    With all the other problems we face all we need now is to lose the 2 channels (RCTV & GloboVision) that remain that report the truth.

  11. Roberto N says:

    Mr. Boyd is expressing something that many who know Venezuela well have feraed for some time. THat Mr. Chavez is purposely creating an enviroment that will give him the excuse he needs to declare a national state of emergency.

    Under that scenario, Mr. Chavez can get rid of the remaining shreds of democratic institutions and rule by decree until the coast is cleared.

    The fact is that he has been gunning for RCTV for a long time now. That he took this step is an indication of how desperate he is becoming. This desperation bodes ill for those who live in Venezuela. Nothing more dangerous than a cornered rat!

  12. Alek Boyd says:

    I think is pretty evident that Chavez is actively fomenting unrest in Venezuela, by taking illegal decisions that he knows will generate heated reactions. Two students have already died, owing to this. Protests are erupting all around the country. Fortunately, for us, no international media, foreign government, multilateral or NGO is prepared to toe the insane line that Chavez is peddling, about their alleged respect for the rule of law in RCTV’s case. His days, as a media darling, saviour of the poor, are well and truly over.

    Alas, before Venezuela regains its lost democracy, many more people will have to endure hardship, or even death.