Thursday, April 2, 2009

A referendum on the future of Globovisión?

Today a representative in the National Assembly, Ricardo Capella (Yaracuy) proposed to the national commission of science, technology and social means of communication that a consultative referendum be held in order to “determine the fate” of Globovisión, a Venezuelan 24 hour news network.

If something like this goes through, we can expect the usual melodrama from Washington and its NGO lackeys. However, it is important to note, and will be important to reiterate ad nauseum, that Globovisión is not your average TV channel.

Indeed, in making the proposal, Capello suggested that the broadcaster had definitively jumped from being a member of the media to being a political actor when its director traveled with opposition politicians to Puerto Rico to coordinate their actions and receive State Department funds in the lead up to February’s constitutional referendum.

The general director of the channel, Alberto Federico Ravell was caught on camera in the international airport by a community journalist when he reentered Venezuela alongside the directors of Venezuela’s main opposition parties. Ravell flipped out, cussing out the reporter and threatening him. Here’s the vid, worth watching even for the non-Spanish speakers:

(My favorite moment comes around minute 1:50, when the reporter asks Julio Borges, leader of Primero Justicia, a party all but founded by the US, if he was away ‘fighting for Puerto Rican independence.’)

The media in Venezuela was for a long time the stand-in for a domestic opposition. Chávez was initially elected after the complete disintegration of the political structure of the country, meaning there was little in the way of an organized challenge to his mandate. The media quickly filled this gap, most notoriously in the brief coup of April 2002.

This situation has been changing over the past 2 years, perhaps most significantly with the end of RCTV’s concession over channel 2 in spring of 2007. Since then, Globovisión has effectively been the last remaining television oppo-soapbox, though the print media is still by and large anti-Bolivarian.

If this proposal goes through, this would be quite an interesting step in the democratization of the airwaves, though it will no doubt be decried as further support for the argument that Chávez is leading an attack on freedom of speech that Globovisión and the State department have been repeating for quite some time now. Of course, such an almost offensively absurd position only holds if one considers the previous state of things, in which access to the media was determined by one’s financial rotundity.

Instead, today in Venezuela, there has been a concerted effort by the government to develop ‘social’ means of mass communication. One way in which this commitment has taken shape in community programs spearheaded by the Nucleos de Desarollo Endógeno (NUDES, yes, I know…) that train barrio kids in video and television production and the opening of the airwaves to these projects.

While the social communications projects of the governments do not yet (by any means) compete with the 'traditional' media's normal course of telenovelas, car chases and overdubbed US movies in terms of their popularity, they do represent a radical rethinking of what 'freedom of speech' actually entails.

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