Saturday, July 23, 2005

Radio Free Venezuela?

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Radio Free Venezuela?

Posted on Fri Jul 22nd, 2005 at 03:17:14 PM EST
The United States Congress is doing its best to outdo the Colombian government in overwrought, overreaching responses to the new Latin American news station Telesur. The U.S. House of Representatives passed an amendment on Wednesday to begin beaming “the ideals of freedom” into Venezuela via new broadcasts modeled on the Cuba-aimed Radio Marti.

The flimsy justification for force-feeding U.S. government and CIA propaganda onto the airwaves which is used for Cuba – that the government does not allow opposing views in the media – should be laughable to anyone who has spent one day in Venezuela. Newsstands and television stations overflow with big-budget anti-Chavista media. Not a single journalist has been jailed or censured under Hugo Chávez’s presidency, while government censorship was rampant under several previous rightwing administrations.

But apparently the impending launch of Telesur – which in truth represents more voices, more freedom of information, instead of less – has the wingnuts that seem to control the House these days in a panic.

Knight-Ridder reported yesterday:

On Wednesday, the U.S. House of Representatives approved an amendment authorizing radio and television broadcasts into Venezuela. The proposal is modeled after Radio Marti, which transmits anti-Communist programming to Cuba, and is intended to counter Telesur, a new Latin American television network backed by the Venezuelan government that is set to debut Sunday.

‘Telesur is a piece of the larger puzzle where (Venezuelan President Hugo) Chavez is trying to incorporate his revolution to all of South America and he wants to push his propaganda through this network,’ said Rep. Connie Mack, R-Fla., the amendment's author. “We wanted to make sure the Venezuelans have the opportunity to hear the ideals of freedom.”

And Gregory Wilpert reports today in

Mack justified his proposal by arguing that “In Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela there is no free press – just state controlled Anti-American, anti-American propaganda. … There is no freedom of speech, no freedom of dissent, and no freedom to stand in opposition to the Chavez regime.”

Reacting to this comment, [Venezuelan ambassador to the U.S. Bernardo] Alvarez pointed out that the U.S.-government TV channel Voice of America is broadcast on all Venezuelan cable and satellite carriers. Also, Fox News and CNN International are both broadcast on cable and satellite carriers in Venezuela. Venezuela’s main private TV stations, Venevisión and Globovisión, which are broadcast via the airwaves, also present the conservative Miami program of Andrés Oppenheimer and CNN en español on a regular basis. All this is in addition to the general anti-Chavez bias of all of Venezuela’s private broadcasters, which dominate the airwaves.

Mack’s bizarro-world version of the media reality in Venezuela is reminiscent of other proposals recently passed in the house related to the war on drugs. Just take the “mycoherbicide cheering committee” and their insistence, as reported here  by Jeremy Bigwood, on resuming that strategy of biological warfare that is too extreme even for the drug czar. Or the recently reauthorized Plan Colombia funding, the version of which that passed in the house represented absolutely no acknowledgement either that fumigation has not curbed drug shipments to the U.S. or that the Colombian military, receiving more aid than any other in the hemisphere, is engaged in widespread human rights massacres and has close links with people who appear on the U.S.’s own lists of wanted terrorists and drug traffickers. No, despite the abundance of hard information on all these issues available here and in other sources, the House is easily persuaded by a few shouting extremists who don’t even know what they’re talking about.

And imagine, for a moment, the reaction in the U.S. if the Venezuelan government started beaming its own state broadcasts into the United States, with no license, interfering with domestic airwaves and essentially stealing pieces of the radio spectrum so prized by the commercial interests that now run the FCC. The FCC does not tolerate such antics from even small local community radio stations, let along foreign governments. Telesur, on the other hand, is trying to spread its views and perspectives throughout the hemisphere by lawful, respectful means, searching out mutual partnerships with local cable and satellite providers.

In fact, this proposal is too crazy even for the Venezuelan opposition media – look, Mr. Mack! They exist! They can say whatever they want! – who have, according to today’s El Tiempo of Bogotá, not responded very warmly to the gesture:

Among members of the Venezuelan media – none of them especially pro-Chavez – the U.S. decision was not well received, either.

Andrés Cañizales, of the Press and Society Institute, called the decision a “blunder” that gave Telesur “on a silver platter” to the most radical sectors of the government “in order to end up becoming a true anti-gringo trench.” What’s more, he said, “freedom of expression consists of the availability of more options, so we are not in agreement with this.”

Sara Díaz, a journalist from [opposition daily] El Universal, felt that the decision “makes no sense, because we have access to all the media and channels. We are not Cuba.”

Even if this proposal passes the Senate, it is more of a reflection of the true character of the U.S. government than any real threat to information freedom in Venezuela. As noted above, most of this material is already freely transmitted on Venezuela’s airwaves. And like last week’s outbursts from the Colombian government, it will in the end probably win more respect for Telesur and similar projects throughout our América.


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