You might already have heard about the fact that Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez recently refused to renew a television license belonging to Venezuelan TV station Radio Caracas Television (RCTV). I’ve seen a lot of reports everywhere the last few days that basically amount to accusations on restriction of freedom of speech. However, when you consider certain details, things start to look very different.

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you know how I think about freedom of speech and about censorship. I absolutely HATE censorship. But what I hate just as much as censorship, is dishonest, incomplete, incorrect or in general, bad, information. I’ve written an entire post not too long ago about how we have to be very careful these days with where we get our information from. In that post, I also mentioned what’s needed in order for information to be useful to us.

I can imagine the decision not to renew RCTV’s license was not an easy one for Chavez. He must have known people would accuse him of trying to silence the opposition in his country and restricting freedom of speech. On the other hand, RCTV has been known to violate laws in Venezuela and has demonstrated questionable journalistic ethics for years now. From here:

Since 1999 RCTV has spread blatant lies and outlandish manipulations of information directly attacking Chavez. It has broadcasted sexually explicit and other inappropriate material in such violation of the law (652 cases) that any honest assessment leads to the conclusion that their journalism is an attack on public health and decency. Fox News is a kitten compared to RCTV.

Beyond this, RCTV were leaders in the 2-day coup in April 2002. This coup was not only one that used the military, but also the media. During the coup, RCTV cancelled their usual programs and broadcast a two-day string of black and white fuzziness, Hollywood movies, cartoons, and infomercials. This is widely confirmed by Venezuelans. When RCTV finally covered the coup, they reported that Chavez had signed his resignation and peacefully left his post as president after his supporters had opened fire on an innocent opposition march. The images RCTV broadcasted of the violence among the marchers were later proved to have been secretively arranged so to block from view the reality; pro-Chavez marchers were firing in self-defense after having been attacked by hidden gunmen. Meanwhile, their president had been violently kidnapped. RCTV`s action were part of a blatant and well-coordinated attempt by the major media to assist the coup leaders by blinding the public to what was actually happening.

And from here:

Along with the other four major corporate-owned dominant television channels (controlling 90% of the nation’s TV market), RCTV played a leading role instigating and supporting the aborted April, 2002 two-day coup against President Chavez mass public opposition on the streets helped overturn restoring Chavez to office and likely saving his life. Later in the year, these stations conspired again as active participants in the economically devastating 2002-03 main trade union confederation (CTV) – chamber of commerce (Fedecameras) lockout and industry-wide oil strike including willful sabotage against state oil company PDVSA costing it an estimated $14 billion in lost revenue and damage.

For one thing, I think Chavez has been extremely lucky in 2002. During the 2-day coup in 2002, which was planned by the CIA, a couple of Irish filmmakers were present and were able to capture a lot of footage. This footage made it into their documentary “The Revolution will not be Televised.” I wrote about this documentary here. In this documentary, you can clearly see how RCTV manipulated footage to fool people into believing a completely incorrect version of what was going on during the 2-day coup. Were it not for these independent filmmakers, lots of people, including me, would probably not know, or doubt, what went on during the 2-day coup. So Chavez has been extremely fortunate to have had this documentary available as an independent and objective source of information to back him.

Even after Chavez came back to power after the coup in 2002, he merely asked the private media who openly supported the coup against him, including RCTV, to correct their behaviour and be honest. He didn’t ask them to lie and not to criticize him, but simply to be honest, objective and correct in their reporting. One can imagine that he could have shut them all down back then if he wanted to, and if he wanted to restrict freedom of speech and not tolerate criticism. But he didn’t, even though what they did to him in 2002 during the 2-day coup was very serious. If you watch “The Revolution will not be Televised,” all of this is very clear at the end. And ofcourse most of the private media, including RCTV, went on with their questionable journalistic ethics even after 2002 until the Venezuelan government decided not to renew RCTV’s license this year.

So is Chavez restricting freedom of speech? I think not. Like I said at the beginning of this post, I HATE censorship, but I also hate it when the media purposely manipulate information and are dishonest in order to promote their (political) agenda. I hate dishonest, incomplete, incorrect or in general, bad, information. So with regard to what RCTV had been doing, I think it was correct for the Venezuelan government to take back the license for channel 2 and give it back to the people of Venezuela. From here:

In Venezuela, as in most democracies, the right to broadcast TV and radio are public commons, which belong in the hands of the public in some way. Since representative democracy is such a predominant political model at this point in history, democratically elected governments like the one in Venezuela are supposed to control the public communications commons. The government gives concessions to private parties to use these commons responsibly, and the government has the right to take them away in the public interest at any time.

The decision not to renew the concession to RCTV was made after a thorough investigation of their journalistic ethics including accuracy, objectivity, and their compliance with the Law on Responsibility in Television and Radio (which was denounced by Human Rights Watch for being a restriction of free speech).

It is also important to note, that although RCTV lost its license to broadcast on channel 2, they are still able to operate via cable and satellite. This is an important fact the international press seems to ignore. I guess you have to ignore that if you want to make it seem like Chavez is restricting freedom of speech and completely shut down RCTV. From here:

In spite of their lawlessness, the Chavez government treated all five broadcasters gently opting not to prosecute them, but merely refusing to renew one of RCTV’s operating licenses (its VHF one) when it expired May 27 (its cable and satellite operations are unaffected) – a mere slap on the wrist for a media enterprise’s active role in trying to overthrow the democratically elected Venezuelan president and his government. The article explained if an individual or organization of any kind incited public hostility, violence and anti-government rebellion under Section 2384 of the US code, Title 18, they would be subject to fine and/or imprisonment for up to 20 years for the crime of sedition.

I, for one, agree with the fact that refusing to renew their license is “a mere slap on the wristwhen you consider everything they’ve done so far.

But does this stop them? Far from it. They seem to continue with plans to destabilize the government in Venezuela:

Caracas, May 26, 2007 (venezuelanalysis.com)? Several major Venezuelan journalists have received all-expenses paid trips to the U.S. for courses in an apparent effort of the U.S. State Department to influence the media in Venezuela, according to recently released documents. The Venezuelan-American attorney Eva Golinger, who released the information yesterday in a press conference in Caracas, also revealed evidence of a destabilization plan against the Chavez government to take place this weekend.

Golinger is the author of The Chavez Code, which documents U.S. funding of opposition groups and U.S. involvement in the 2002 coup attempt.

Under a program named International Business Leadership Program, many Venezuelan journalists, mostly from the opposition media, but also some from the Venezuelan government, have received “scholarships” from the U.S. government to attend training courses during the years 2001-2005.

With the supposed intention of teaching journalists about the media and journalism in the United States, the program also has the purpose of influencing how Venezuelan journalists cover events related to the U.S. foreign policy. According to the documents released, the programs denominated “Journalism IV” seek to “influence the approach and ultimately the coverage given to issues of importance to U.S. foreign policy and to strengthen the Venezuelan democratic process.”

The State Department gave special attention to the Venezuelan news channel Globovisi?n, which they believe to be “the most influential channel” and to have the most positive coverage of the United States. The State Department sought a special relationship with this particular news network, and especially with one important journalist Maria Fernanda Flores.

Pay special attention to the fact that the US State Department is actively trying to influence the media in Venezuela. Also take note of the fact that Globovision is receiving “special attention.” Could it have something to do with the fact that they recently alluded to assassination of Chavez during a broadcast?

In an official broadcast over all the nation’s airwaves yesterday, President Chavez announced that his government would not allow the private media or political leaders to openly call for violence and incite chaos in the country. Chavez accused the private network Globovision of instigating violence and his assassination, and warned them to control themselves.

“Globovision, you watch how far you go, I just recommend that you measure it well,” warned Chavez. “If you all want, keep advancing, if you want to keep calling for disobedience, inciting assassination like you did last night.,” he said referring to a recent broadcast of Globovision that alluded to assassination.

Chavez also warned the country to be aware of any destabilization plans. He alerted both opposition and pro-government groups that certain opposition sectors are looking to cause deaths in the streets.

It is no surprise that the USA is trying to influence and even actively support the private, largely anti-Chavez, media in Venezuela. They’ve been supporting the opposition in Venezuela for years now. It’s pretty obvious what they’re trying to achieve. If you want to take over from the outside, you have to first destabilize from within which makes it easier. They’ve done the same thing in many, many other countries in the past, and are doing it right now in Iran as well.

It’s sad that many people still fail to notice what’s really going on.