By Elizabeth Araujo. Tal Cual Digital. March 8th, 2014.
Professor of Communications and researcher, Marcelino Bisbal, has no doubt Maduro wants to eradicate what is left of freedom of speech.
The Director of Postgraduate Studies at the Universidad Católica Andrés Bello and co-editor of the book “Saldo en Rojo”, a compilation of 20 essays on communications and culture in the Bolivarian era, states that after 10 months of being in office, Nicolás Maduro has hit the accelerator towards a totalitarian regime. “The government wants to shutdown newspapers that do not obey them.”
– Freedom of press and freedom of speech: the two subjects in Maduro’s government agenda, which reinforce the opinion of those who believe the “son” has inherited his “father’s” authoritarianism. Are we on the brink of a dictatorship?
– Every day there are more obvious signs to indicate that we move steadily closer to the formation of a totalitarian regime. We still have a few media outlets left in Venezuela, which with a certain degree of difficulty, we can use to express ourselves. However we are also noticing they are diminishing in numbers. After 10 months of Nicolás Maduro being in power we are in fact on the brink of a totalitarian regime. For the government it is no longer enough to appear authoritarian through public displays but now it also manifests it through public conduct.
– It is also surprising to see how the government accuses others of practicing a media dictatorship considering the level of control they possess over the State’s media structure.
– Look, this government has inherited a media platform in the form of a mass communications structure from its predecessor. For example, after the national strike and the coup on April 12th 2002 the government realized the importance of having media control and therefore went on to establish a media platform with radio and TV stations and later with control over the printed media; an unprecedented maneuver in Latin America or in the Republican history of our country. No previous government in Venezuela, even the democratic ones, ever had so much control over media communication. They have 14 TV stations at their service; the most important one is Venezolana de Televisión. They are intended to be used for public services, but instead they are used for the government’s own interests, fully controlled by the ruling party and managed by their own people. They do not serve the Venezuelan people. The State owns two newspapers: Correo del Orinoco and Ciudad Caracas. They also count with the support of the daily Vea. They also help run a group of State and public radio stations, and even though they do not own them, they do subsidize them. These are alternative and/or community networks comprising of 500 to 600 radio stations. Not all of these stations are pro-government, but most of them remain close to it.
– We can also add the digital domain to that…
– Yes, they manage online websites for each ministry as well as community webpages, which are truly impressive. Once we counted 150 websites. On this regard, I would like to quote Professor Antonio Pasquali: “The Chavista government is the first one to understand how vitally important communication is for the modeling of a society and it is a shame they have applied that understanding to the wrong cause.” It is interesting that even having this much control over the media; their audience is incredibly low. That goes not only for the amount of people who watch those TV channels but also who read those newspapers, or listen to those radio stations.
– Can we say this does not occur by chance? Is it part of a political strategy?
– It’s a notion of media communication supremacy. It’s all about having control of the media, even if nobody listens to their radio stations or watches their TV stations. Additionally they apply strict controls to independent media. An example of this is what happened to Unión Radio. Years ago a community station was set up in Altos Mirandinos and the people there were then unable to listen to Unión Radio. It was the result of Conatel’s (National Commission of Telecommunications) licensing policies, which granted radio frequencies without any kind of control or technical precautions, disregarding the international laws of communications. Their intention is completely political: to overshadow any independent or criticizing TV or radio station. Conatel has always been a technical entity, but now it is part of the Vice-presidency, and has turned into a political entity. We have seen its president’s actions, William Castillo who, via twitter, removed Colombian news channel NTN24 from cable, without establishing an administrative filing or giving them a chance to defend themselves.
– How would you describe the suppression of newspapers like El Nacional and El Impulso, who have been so influential in Venezuelan society?
– Maduro has radicalized his predecessor’s views towards mass media. Remember how he launched the mission Patria Segura (Safe Homeland) from Miraflores. He summoned all opposition television channels to a meeting and there is no doubt in my mind he generated self-censorship. Let’s also remember the statements he made against El Universal, El Nacional, and TalCual. Issues of importance to Venezuelans like food scarcity, crime rates, unemployment and healthcare matters are downplayed in state media, and so if independent media reports on these issues it generates chaos and anxiety. We made a little study. We took samples of the newspapers Correo del Orinoco, El Universal, Vea and Ultimas Noticias. We compared the content in each of them and showed that in Vea and Correo del Orinoco, reporting on those issues is virtually absent. In a way, it also happens in Ultimas Noticias. In some parts of the national media, these issues are nonexistent. Another example is the restructuring process of the media in such a short period of time. The purchase of Globovisión remains suspicious. Who are the owners? Why did the channels media coverage change so abruptly? Of what significance is the sale of Cadena Capriles? Nobody knows who is behind this restructuring of the media, whether it is being handled by a business front man or by high level government. What is very clear is the news and editorial content have completely changed. And the paper shortage is astounding. The government seeks to shut down opposition media and takes a radical position with statements like, “I will not dispense foreign currency to those who speak badly of the government.”
– Now there is the new lawsuit against TalCual. What do you think about the law suit against board of directors of TalCual as a result of an opinion article?
– I believe they have always had their eye on TalCual. A small, but critical newspaper, which establishes a political position based on the events taking place in the country, and has a certain influence on political leaders from both sides. Those who want to shut it down find TalCual uncomfortable reading. This lawsuit is almost a deadly attack. What is alarming is how this law suit has come about. Carlos Genatios shared his opinion in this newspaper article; so if the legal case is against an individual, why go for the newspaper’s board of directors? Very simple, because they want to pull TalCual out of circulation. It is another media outlet making them uncomfortable; if they could buy it, they would. But clearly TalCual is not for sale, and it will never serve dishonorable causes. First of all, because Teodoro Petkoff shoulders his responsibilities, and is a Venezuelan with impeccable principles, which have been proven throughout his political life. Then we have the prosecution case. When I see Diosdado Cabello make a statement, I wonder who is really governing our country. We have seen the President of the National Assembly make statements that have nothing to do with his position as congressman. We have seen him haranguing the military, while the Minister of Defense sits mutely right beside him, silent while Cabello speaks. We have seen him around the country speaking belligerently, as if saying: I’m the one really in charge. Cabello is proving that he has significant amount of power. More or less than Nicolás Maduro? I don’t know.
– How can it be that pro-government intellectuals have not made any comment on the disproportionate attacks against long-standing newspapers like El Nacional? How to interpret the silence from Luis Britto García, José Vicente Rangel, or Luis Alberto Crespo on this matter? Especially when they themselves once wrote articles for the self-same newspapers they now label as “right wing”.
– I can’t explain it. We used to share the same ideals with those people who now defend the abuse we are opposing. It’s a question for a psychiatrist. How can you defend a political regime that has destroyed practically everything that was at least partially functional in terms of health care and crime prevention, and also condones property confiscation and celebrates the fall of private commerce? How can they call themselves socialist, when they’ve also become the richest? Perhaps a psychiatrist would say, “there is deep social resentment, and emotional deficiency.” In Addition to money and power, which go hand in hand. The corruption is not only political, it’s ethical.
– What can be done in the face of this devastating scenario for Venezuelan journalism?
– I think the obvious step is not to give up. We can’t stay silent. We have to condemn it inside and outside of the country. Each of us from our own perspective, whether academic, or media, or whatever our field. It is about an unavoidable responsibility. By the way, Teodoro has always said for the last 15 years, “this is not a 100-meter race, it is a marathon”. Which is to say, He who tires, loses. We, the 7 and a half million people who oppose this government and do not want to become a Cuban colony, have reason to protest every day.
Source: Araujo, Elizabeth. “Buscan el control total”. TalCualDigital.com. March 8th, 2014. <http://www.talcualdigital.com/nota/visor.aspx?id=99865>
Translated by #infoVnzla