Channel 4 sharpens the knives: baseless slanders against Hugo Chavez

On Monday March 27, the British Channel 4 screened a documentary on Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez that can only be described as scandalous. Unfortunately this is not just an isolated incident, but part of a more general and concerted effort to spread half-truths and open lies about Chavez with the aim of preparing world public opinion for “regime change” in Venezuela.

On Monday March 27, the British Channel 4 screened a documentary on Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez that can only be described as scandalous. The description of Chavez as a “demagogue who could spearhead a regional shift to the left” may have been a quote coming from Washington, but it is obvious Channel 4 wanted to make a clear statement agreeing with all the lies coming from the White House: we don't like Mr. Chavez. Why?

First, of course, because he is authoritarian. As usual, this allegation was not backed up by any evidence. It is one of these things the corporate media, when talking about Chavez, tend to mention as an aside, never putting too much emphasis on it because they must also know that the President, his government and his policies have been ratified in eleven different elections and referenda in less than eight years' time. Nevertheless the slander was there, and needless to say, there was not a word about Chavez’s extremely big democratic mandate and about the concerted attacks on the Bolivarian revolution by any means necessary (the coup, the lock-out, the CIA involvement, etc.).

But this was just the start of this dreadful piece of journalism. Soon Chavez was seen as “joining a rogue's gallery of dictators and despots”. He was displayed alongside the likes of Khadaffi and Saddam Hussein. Sure, these gentlemen are not what you would call leading lights of democracy, but do we really have to point out that meeting leaders – yes, who suppress their own people – of other OPEC countries for purely business reasons is simply an economic necessity and part of the job of a president of one of the biggest oil producing countries in the world?

Incredibly, “Washington's latest nightmare” was alleged to be “serenading Venezuelans with a message of hate”. Message of hate? Would they mean the message of hope Chavez and with him the Venezuelan revolution in general is giving millions and millions of people who for the first time in their lives have started to take their destinies into their own hands? Couldn’t it be that the vast majority of Venezuelans care about their sovereignty and do not want to be ruled and bullied by American imperialism? The Channel 4 documentary certainly didn’t bother to display Chavez talking about the various misiones giving a future to so many downtrodden people or – the horror, the horror – him talking about Socialism of the 21st Century. Instead they tried to ridicule him and picked on one piece of Chavez’ weekly radio show Alo Presidente, where he jokes about George W. Bush, “you are a donkey, Mr Danger”. True, this was followed by Chavez warning, “If you decide to invade Venezuela, we will be waiting for you”, as if this was such a shocking thing to say, but typical for this whole piece this was immediately qualified by the allegation that Chavez is “clinging to power as long as he can”. By this what they mean is that he will stand in a democratic election for a second term of office, such an “authoritarian” thing to do!

Furthermore, “Chavez constantly accuses the CIA of trying to assassinate him”, but the viewer was left without any context whatsoever. The 2002 coup, backed by the CIA, was hardly mentioned, and neither was the constant stream of outright lies from the right-wing press in Venezuela who are free to openly call for his assassination and can get away with it. Chavez is quite right to be worried about US military intervention and the danger of political assassination. In fact, just one year ago, former CIA agent Felix Rodriguez suggested precisely that, a military strike to eliminate Chavez (, and a few months later right-wing Republican Pat Robertson made an open call for the assassination of Chavez: “We have the ability to take him out, and I think the time has come that we exercise that ability” ( Just imagine this in any other “democratic” country in the West with “freedom of the press”.

Yes, there were bits and pieces where one could see just a glimpse of the revolution in Venezuela. One could see a women’s demonstration in front of the American embassy, and one woman is even allowed to show her affection for President Chavez. By this point, however, one could start to guess what was coming, and indeed, enter another allegation, this time that the “personality cult around President Chavez is everywhere”. Maybe somebody should point out that Chavez is simply immensely popular amongst his own people because he is actually delivering and not just making empty promises. Here the film makers would have had plenty of opportunity to talk about the eradication of illiteracy, the building of new schools and universities, the free healthcare in the poor barrios, etc. Instead, all we got was a very short reference to the Cuban doctors in Venezuela, followed by a glimpse of a shoe factory that was now a cooperative where everybody was paid the same wage. This was enough to brand it as a “Soviet style collective”. In fact, it was portrayed as a negative thing that a lot of oil money was being allocated to create jobs like these. Surely axing jobs and throwing thousands of working men and women in uncertainty, as profit-driven multinationals do in the developed capitalist world, is preferable to this government funding. That is, if you are a documentary maker on the payroll of a media conglomerate not interested in giving a true insight in the workings and contradictions of the Venezuelan Revolution.

Analysing both sides of the question is the first thing you usually do as a journalist or filmmaker. We didn’t expect a propaganda film for the Chavez government, but here the British TV channel swung far to the other side – far to the right. Shame on Channel 4 for resorting to oil giant Exxon’s former President for some juicy quotes on Chavez’ alleged authoritarianism, to Maria Corina Machado, a so-called "human rights activist" who is in reality a leader of Sumate, a far right organisation financed by the United States National Endowment for Democracy, and to spice this untasty mix of slander and innuendo with some extraordinary associations as if Venezuela is being helped by the Iranian regime in setting up a nuclear programme.

At one point Chavez was displayed saying, “If they [American imperialism] cross the line, they will not have our oil.” This was seen as a “dangerous line” by Channel 4, without any explanation why this would be dangerous. Jose Vincente Rangel, Venezuela's vice-president, rightly said it is not Venezuela that is threatening the United States, but rather the other way round. The US, after all, has a long history of interventions in Latin America. “The US government is dangerous because it is governed by an irresponsible group of madmen.” If this may sound somewhat crude, it was certainly one of the more sensible comments in the whole documentary.

Ironically, Channel 4’s piece was broadcast on the same day as the US Southern Command announced large scale military exercises in the Caribbean which are clearly designed as a threat against Venezuela (see US launches major military exercises in the Caribbean as a warning to Venezuela and Cuba). Nevertheless Jonathan Rugman’s report managed to present the victim as the aggressor. This, in common language, is called propaganda.

Unfortunately this is not just an isolated incident, but part of a more general and concerted effort to spread half-truths and open lies about Chavez with the aim of preparing world public opinion for “regime change” in Venezuela. By associating Chavez with Saddam Hussein, the road is being cleared just a little bit more for an attack on Venezuela itself.

See the documentary for yourself on the Channel 4 website