Venezuela's Political and Racial Media Rift

18 Aug 2009

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Richard Gizbert of Al Jazeera's Listening Post reports that Venezuela's media is divided along racial and political lines.

Venezuela's media war is unrivalled with President Hugo Chavez's state-controlled media in one corner and the privately owned opposition media, in the other.

The conflict between Chavez and the opposition media began almost as soon as he was elected as president.

That said, Chavez does have some legitimate beefs with the private media. Some of them openly backed a coup attempt against him in 2002, while others routinely broadcast and present diatribes against the president that would not be allowed in many countries.

When the opposition media decided to blatantly support the coup attempt against Chavez, it became a declaration of war. During the coup attack, opposition television channel RCTV openly and unapologetically called for the military overthrow of the democratically elected president.  

Francisco Dominguez of Middlesex University in the UK argues that ever since Chavez was elected a decade ago, the media has been his enemy in every possible sense. In a totally unjust manner, the Chavez regime has been accused of every imaginable crime. 

The news divide has Venezuelans living in two distinctly different political worlds; depending on what media they are watching, listening to or reading.

This division plays itself out along racial and political lines. Chavez draws most of his votes from Venezuelans, who, like him are of American or African descent.

Private media outlets are mostly owned by people of European descent -- white business people, who until Chavez's election dominated Venezuelan politics.

President Chavez controls state-run media, but opposition outlets outnumber his channels. Still, every Sunday, he hosts his own programme on television called "Alo Presidente." 

Chavez recently took aim at Venezuela's privately owned media by proposing a new 'media crimes law'. However, even his supporters balked at the strongly worded proposed legislation, which called for prison terms for libellous journalism. The law never saw the light of day as the pro-government national assembly shelved it before it even came to a vote.

Mark Weisbrot of the Centre for Economics and Policy Research in the US says that the law obviously got a lot of international attention because it was a bad law -- but also because the international media likes to present the view that Venezuela is under some kind of dictatorship.

According to Weisbrot, when the US is trying to get rid of a government or destabilize it, they always try to say that "it’s not a democracy and that they (the US) are supporting democracy -- this is standard," says Weisbrot. It doesn't matter if the government is a theocracy like Iran or a dictatorship like Iraq was under Saddam Hussein or a democracy like Venezuela. Not coincidentally, says Weisbrot, all three of these states are major oil producers. 

And the major news producers - the mainstream western media - are there to tell the story, reports Al Jazeera.

Inside Venezuela, the full-blooded media war goes on. Weisbrot contends that the opposition media is much more oppositional and extreme than anything that can be found in the US. RCTV the quasi-official channel of the 2002 coup lost its broadcast license, but still reaches large audiences through cable, satellite and online media.

"Hugo Chavez is often described in the international media as a dictator, but what kind of dictator wins three free and fair elections, allows his media crimes law to die in the legislature and permits a channel like RCTV to stay in business? If, as the international media report, Chavez is a dictator, he's not very good at it." says, Gizbert.

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